During his morning Twitter storm, Donald Trump wrote that Congressional Republicans have more important things to worry about than gutting the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. On Monday, GOP House members surprisingly approved a proposal to strip the independent ethics board of some of its power. Hours after Trump’s tweets, the GOP pulled their proposal to change the OCE.
Although Trump called the office “unfair,” he still thinks Congress should have focused on tax reform, health care and other issues.
“With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!” Trump wrote. He added “#DTS,” a reference to “Drain The Swamp.”
The Hill reports that the controversial proposal was dropped before Congress’ new session officially began.
Trump’s tweets came after Republican members of the House voted 119-74 in favor of a proposal by Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia. As CNN reports, Goodlatte’s proposal bars the panel from reviewing a violation of criminal laws by a Congressmember. Instead, the House Ethics Committee or federal law enforcement agency would handle the matter. The House Ethics Committee can stop any investigation by the ethics office and keeps them from making public statements under Goodlatte’s proposal.
The OCE is an independent panel that was established in March 2008. Members of the panel cannot be members of Congress or staffers in the federal government while on the panel. It has an eight-member board, with Judy Biggert, who represented Illinois in the House from 1999 to 2013, as Acting Chair.
On January 3, the rest of the House would have voted on Goodlatte’s proposal, which was not backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions. Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “The Office of Congressional Ethics is essential to an effective ethics process in the House, providing a vital element of transparency and accountability to the ethics process. The amendment Republicans approved tonight would functionally destroy this office.”
Ryan issued his own statement, which reads:
“After eight years of operation, many members believe the Office of Congressional Ethics is in need of reform to protect due process and ensure it is operating according to its stated mission. I want to make clear that this House will hold its members to the highest ethical standards and the Office will continue to operate independently to provide public accountability to Congress. The Office will continue to be governed by a bipartisan independent outside board with ultimate decision-making authority. The Office is still expected to take in complaints of wrongdoing from the public. It will still investigate them thoroughly and independently. And the outside board will still decide whether or not evidence exists to warrant a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee. With the amendment adopted last night, the bipartisan, evenly-divided House Ethics Committee will now have oversight of the complaints office. But the Office is not controlled by the Committee, and I expect that oversight authority to be exercised solely to ensure the Office is properly following its rules and laws, just as any government entity should. I have made clear to the new Chair of the House Ethics Committee that it is not to interfere with the Office’s investigations or prevent it from doing its job. All members of Congress are required to earn the public’s trust every single day, and this House will hold members accountable to the people.”
Goodlatte defended the proposal, insisting that his proposal “builds upon and strengthens the existing OCE by maintaining its primary area of focus – accepting and reviewing constituent complaints – while improving upon due process rights for individuals under investigation, as well as witnesses called to testify.”
The Ohio Democratic Party replied to Trump, telling him that the Republicans in Congress are “merely following your lead on ethics.” They also referred to Trump’s tweet earlier on Tuesday that read, “General Motors is sending Mexican made model of Chevy Cruze to U.S. car dealers-tax free across border. Make in U.S.A.or pay big border tax!”
Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who was a member of the House when the OCE was set up, focused on Trump’s complaint that the office is “unfair.” “I helped set it up. There’s nothing ‘unfair’ about it. ‘Unfair’ is when Congress was self-policing its own ethics rules,” Murphy wrote.