The 115th Congress got off to a rocky start in its first days as Republican Members of Congress backed away from a bill that would strip power from the Office of Congressional Ethics.
Washington – On Monday, House Republicans voted in a secret session to substantially curtail the power of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent ethics office that “reviews allegations of misconduct against Members, officers, and staff of the House of Representatives.” Congress had established OCE in 2008, through House Resolution 895 to increase accountability and transparency. By Tuesday, House Republicans then reversed their vote after significant backlash from House Democrats, President-elect Donald Trump, and the general public.
Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA-6), who had introduced the bill, released a press statement in response to the backlash stating, “Gross misrepresentation by opponents of my amendment, and the media willing to go along with this agenda, resulted in a flurry of misconceptions and unfounded claims about the true purpose of this amendment. To be perfectly clear, the OCE has a serious and important role in the House, and my amendment would have done nothing to impede their work or lessen the high ethical standards to which all Members of Congress should be held.”
It is unclear what Goodlatte’s true intentions were. Some have speculated that the bill, which was not supported by party leadership but widely endorsed by rank-and-file Members, was to protect Members targeted with investigations. One Congressman under investigation by OCE is Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA-50). Hunter is accused of using $600 of campaign funds to pay for airfare for his family’s rabbit. Another is Congressman Blake Farenthold (R-TX-27). Farenthold has been accused of sexually harassing a former staffer.
The bill, which sought to change OCE to the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, would have stripped the office of independence by making it report to the House Committee on Ethics. This would have prevented consideration of any allegations made anonymously, prohibited the office from making public statements or talking to the press, and disallowed the office from reviewing criminal complaints.
Seeming to highlight the irony of secretly trying to abolishing an ethics watchdog, in a CNN interview, Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA-6) stated, “They (Republicans) completely blindsided us. It’s completely ridiculous . . . Is there any American that thinks Congress is too ethical?”
Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO-6) released a press statement saying, “As representatives of the people, Members of Congress are held to the highest of standards. I strongly oppose any unilateral changes to the Office of Congressional Ethics, and instead support a bipartisan independent system to assure fair and effective oversight and transparency in Congress.”
With control of the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives, Republicans are bound to make substantial progress to their agenda, but marginalizing OCE will not be one of them–at least not yet.
J. David Thompson, Lima Charlie News
J David Thompson (US Army) is a Juris Doctor candidate at Washington & Lee University School of Law focusing on International Human Rights Law. He is a Veterans in Global Leadership Fellow, and brings experience on human rights, international relations, strengthening civil society, refugee issues, interagency collaboration, and countering violent extremism. Prior to Washington & Lee, he served in the US Army as a Military Police officer and Special Operations Civil Affairs with multiple deployments to Afghanistan and one to Jordan—receiving a Bronze Star amongst other decorations. In Jordan, David worked at the US Embassy in countering violent extremism, strengthening civil society, and refugee response with other United States Government organizations, the United Nations, and various non-governmental organizations. Follow David on Twitter @JDThompsonLC
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