UPDATE (12:24 p.m.): Shortly after noon today, the House Republicans backed off their plan to gut the ethics watchdog, after receiving the critical tweet from President-elect Donald Trump.
UPDATE 2 (12:43 p.m.): So, apparently, Donald Trump, with a couple of tweets, has more power than Paul Ryan and the other ostensible House leaders to influence the rank and file Republicans. Is the House leadership now actually in the hands of the president-elect?
As their first major act of the 115th Congress, House Republicans on Monday night voted behind closed doors to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics.
That’s right. Less than two months after Americans chose the presidential candidate who promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington, Donald J. Trump’s own party voted to rein in an independent ethics office, created eight years ago after a series of embarrassing congressional scandals, and put it under the control of the House Ethics Committee.
In other words: let House members police their own darn ethics.
Trump himself criticized the House for making the weakening of the ethics watchdog their first priority, saying, in a pair of tweets this morning, that there were better things to work on: “Tax reform, healthcare, and so many other things of far greater importance!”
Of course, to the public it seems no accident at all that Congress would make its first priority the weakening of the independent agency: It looks like they’re clearing the way for all sorts of skulduggery.
It’s a bad sign of how this Congress intends to do business that this vote was reached in a private conference vote, meaning that no Democrats were involved or forced to vote. If, as alleged, the independent ethics office has acted unfairly against some members, why not make that a public discussion, rather than offer up that explanation after the secret vote was taken?
It’s not the first sign of anti-democratic tendencies from this new Congress. Last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan and his Republican lieutenants proposed new penalties for lawmakers if they live-stream or cause disruptions on the House floor. It’s a direct response to House Democrats’ 25-hour sit-in last summer over GOP inaction on gun-control legislation.
As Bloomberg News reported:
Under the proposed new rules package, which was seen by Bloomberg News, members could face a $500 fine through deductions to their paychecks for a first offense of using electronic photography or audio or visual recording, as well as for broadcasting from the chamber’s floor. A $2,500 fine would be leveled for the next such offense and each subsequent violation.
The new rules also clarify which conduct is to be deemed disorderly or disruptive during floor proceedings, including blocking access by other members to microphones or what is known as “the well” — the front of the chamber.
In our editorial on Sunday, we urged citizens to be vigilant in this new year to “keep the politicians from shredding the safety net, betraying the environment and knee-capping our democracy.”
These moves, which smack of a ruling party making things cozy for itself, are just the kind of knee-capping we were talking about.
Let us know here if you think House Republicans are being hypocrites, and have gone too far?