House Republicans Abandon Gutting of Ethics Office

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House Republicans Abandon Gutting of Ethics Office

Ally Boguhn

The effort to strip the ethics office of its power was led by several lawmakers who have been subjected to the office’s oversight, including Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX). Farenthold was accused of sexual harassment, though the office eventually recommended the probe be dropped.

House Republicans on Tuesday withdrew their controversial plan to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), just one day after voting for the rule change in a closed-door meeting.

Bloomberg Politics reported that the amendment had been removed from the rules package in a last-minute vote called by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The rule change was proposed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and received a 119-74 vote during a private GOP conference meeting on Monday. Republicans changed course after a public backlash against the rule change.

The measure would have put the independent ethics office under the control of the House Committee on Ethics and would have banned the office from making public statements or hiring a spokesperson, according to a draft of the proposed changes obtained by the New York Times. The draft specified that the ethics office could not investigate anonymous tips.

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The OCE is “charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against Members, officers, and staff of the United States House of Representatives and, when appropriate, referring matters to the House Committee on Ethics,” according to its website. Created in 2008 to increase the transparency and accountability of House members, the office’s findings are almost always made public.

Politico reported that the effort to strip the OCE of its power, according to sources at Monday’s meeting, was led by several lawmakers who have been subjected to the office’s oversight, including Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX).

Farenthold was accused of sexual harassment, though the office eventually recommended the probe be dropped.

The OCE recommended in May that the Committee on Ethics investigate Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), chair of the stringently anti-choice House Freedom Caucus, over allegations he had continued to pay a staff member that was no longer under employment of his office.

“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,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a Monday statement in which she noted the “vital” work the office does.

“Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress,” Pelosi said.

President-elect Trump on Twitter questioned why House Republicans had prioritized the rule change, though he did not condemn the proposal. “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” he said in a series of Tuesday morning tweets.

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway had defended the House GOP’s move to strip oversight on ABC’s Good Morning America, saying that Republicans had “a mandate” to pass significant changes.

Conway added that “gutting [OCE] doesn’t mean there won’t be a mechanism” for oversight, noting that Republicans planned to create an Office of Congressional Complaint Review in its place.

Good Morning America host George Stephanopoulos countered that the office would be under the control of congressional Republicans and would no longer be independent.