The Republican House of Representatives moved to limit the power of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) on Monday in a 119-74 vote, but they backtracked on their decision after a tweet from President-elect Donald Trump.
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted the following in a two-part tweet, “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! #DTS”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), along with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said they did not agree with the proposed changes on Monday evening. After Trump’s tweet, House Republicans held a meeting in which they dropped the proposed OCE changes. If the change were made, the House would have authority over the OCE. In addition, the OCE would not have been able to look over criminal law violations committed by Congress members. The violations would be looked at by the either the House Ethics Committee or a law enforcement agency at the federal level. The changes would have also allowed the House Ethics Committee to halt investigations whenever it decided to. The OCE would also not be permitted to issue statements to the public. Furthermore, the OCE would have not been allowed to look into reports submitted anonymously regarding Congress members allegedly committing crimes. The changes were included in a package that the House will vote in in the future.
Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced the OCE changes. Goodlatte issued the following statement after the House removed the OCE changes from the package, “The House must have a rules package under which to operate and serve our constituents, and ultimately accepting the amendment from Majority Leader McCarthy was the only way to ensure passage. While I understand the need to do so, I am wholly disappointed that these important reforms to strengthen due process rights and the mission of the OCE did not move forward. 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. I look forward to passing a House Rules package this afternoon and getting down to the important business the American people elected us to perform.”
Ryan issued his own lengthy statement ahead of the changes being removed from the package, “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.”
House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) issued the following statement after the proposed OCE changes were taken from the package, “House Republicans showed their true colors last night, and reversing their plans to destroy the Office of Congressional Ethics will not obscure their clear contempt for ethics in the People’s House.”
The OCE website describes itself as “an independent, non-partisan entity 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.” The OCE is run by attorneys and those who have knowledge of ethics law.