House GOP Withdraws Move to Gut Ethics Watchdog After Backlash

PHOTO: An empty House of Representatives Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. is pictured Jan. 10, 2010. PlayBrooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images
WATCH House Republicans Withdraw Move to Weaken Ethics Watchdog

House Republicans reversed plans to gut a congressional ethics watchdog on Tuesday after a backlash that included criticism from President-elect Donald Trump over the timing of the move.

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Late Monday night House GOP members voted to dramatically restructure the Office of Congressional Ethics, putting the independent office under the jurisdiction of a congressional committee.

Trump tweeted this morning that the timing of the change was poor and should not have been the first priority for the newly elected Congress.

"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!" he wrote.

He included a hashtag referring to one of his campaign slogans, "Drain the swamp." One of his main campaign promises was to end perceived corruption in Washington.

GOP leadership, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Leader Kevin McCarthy, had spoken out against the move.

Like Trump, McCarthy said that he didn't think it was the "right time" for a controversial change to the chamber's independent ethics watchdog.

The OCE is currently a nonpartisan office led by lawyers, former members of Congress and others tasked with investigating alleged wrongdoing by members of Congress. The group may publicly release its findings and call for the House Committee on Ethics to take action.

The amendment passed by House Republicans would have limited the OCE's ability to act autonomously and make its investigations public.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi criticized Monday's vote in a statement, saying, "Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress."

Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., the outgoing chairman of the Ethics Committee, told reporters the amendment was too "ambiguous" and "needed further clarification."

Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., agreed, saying members were bombarded with calls after waking up to bad headlines this morning.

"There was a perception that this would weaken independence ... American people want to see that ethics are for real," he said. "Now we're going to work this through properly ... going to open up bipartisan debate."

Some members, including Steve King, R-Iowa, voiced their disappointment with the reversal. King doubled down on the idea that all members of Congress should have a right to face accusers on ethics issues and promised to continue to fight for "full abolishment" of the office.

Asked if Trump’s tweet made a difference, King said, "Yes, it animated the press."

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