Looks Like the Office of Congressional Ethics Is Still in Business—For Now

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You know the GOP-controlled Congress is off to a embarrassing start when members are called on ethical grounds by President-elect Donald Trump.

If you haven't already heard, the GOP caucus last night, behind closed doors, came up with a a plan to gut the the Office of Congressonal Ethics by eliminating its ability to investigate anonymous complaints and blocking it from releasing results of investigations to the public.

When news of the changes broke today, the GOP caucus changed course in the face of public outrage—not to mention the Donald's tweet—and decided to leave the ethics office as it is—for now.

Politico has the basics:

Following a public outcry, and tweeted criticism from President-elect Donald Trump, House Republicans reversed course Tuesday on a proposal to gut their own ethics watchdog.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called an emergency House GOP conference Tuesday around noon to scrap a proposed House rule that would have effectively declawed the Office of Congressional Ethics. The proposal, which House Republicans approved behind closed doors Monday night, would have defied Trump’s “drain the swamp” mantra aimed at making Washington more transparent and less cozy.

But McCarthy's motion to restore the current OCE set-up was adopted by unanimous consent after Trump himself got involved — an intervention that irritated a number of House Republicans who supported the move to neuter the ethics office.

“We shot ourselves in the foot,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who said the ethics snafu was an unnecessary self-inflicted wound. “Sometimes people have to learn the hard way.”
Yesterday's vote on the amendment to the House Rules was anonymous, so we don't know how many of the members of Congress voted, although Talking Points Memo is keeping a scorecard of representatives who have disclosed how they voted. So far, Southern Arizona Rep. Martha McSally has not answered. The Weekly has reached out to McSally's office ask how she voted and whether she'd support future changes to how the Office of Congressional Ethics operates.

UPDATE: McSally spokesman Patrick Ptak tells the Weekly that McSally voted against the amendment to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics and "believes that any approach to reform the OCE should be bipartisan."

Newly elected U.S. Rep. Tom O'Halleran, who campaigned on pushing a better ethical culture in Washington, was out the gate early today with a statement condemning the proposed changes.

“It is simply unbelievable that the first thing some of my colleagues want to do in this Congress is gut the independent ethics watchdog,” said O’Halleran. “This is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. Congress needs greater accountability and transparency.”

The Weekly has contacted O'Halleran's office for a response to the GOP's reversal. We're also waiting to hear back from Southern Arizona's other congressional representative, Democrat Raul Grijalva, who is supposed to have a statement later today. We'll update as we hear more.

UPDATE: O'Halleran promised to pursue legislation to protect the Office of Congressional Ethics in a statement to the press:

I am glad to see Republican leaders chose to reverse the proposed changes to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) that would weaken the independent watchdog group that holds Congress accountable. The American people deserve a transparent and accountable government. I will be introducing legislation in the coming weeks that funds the Office of Congressional Ethics and gives the Committee the power to fully investigate cases of fraud, conflicts of interest, and other ethics violations.

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