House Republicans, overriding their top leaders, voted on Monday to significantly curtail the power of an independent ethics office set up in 2008 in the aftermath of corruption scandals that sent three members of Congress to jail.
The move to effectively kill the Office of Congressional Ethics was not made public until late Monday, when Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced that the House Republican Conference had approved the change. There was no advance notice or debate on the measure.
The surprising vote came on the eve of the start of a new session of Congress, where emboldened Republicans are ready to push an ambitious agenda on everything from health care to infrastructure, issues that will be the subject of intense lobbying from corporate interests. The House Republicans’ move would take away both power and independence from an investigative body, and give lawmakers more control over internal inquiries.
Among other things, the changes would destroy the independence of the OCE, making them answerable only to Congress. It would also bar them from investigation criminal matters or talk to whistleblowers.
When the Republican revolution happened in 1994, it was driven, at least in part, by the hideous corruption of the Democrats (see., e.g., Dan Rostenkowski). One of the things that made me happy was the GOP immediately changed the way Congress did business, increasing transparency and accountability, making laws apply to them as well as the public and cracking down on perks. This is an ugly step in the opposite direction.
Speaker Ryan has spoken against this measures as has Trump. We’ll see how it does when it comes up for a full vote.
Update: Shortly after I posted this, the GOP withdrew the rules change.