Goodman: The targeting of journalists has to end

At Least 5 Killed In Shooting At Annapolis Capital-Gazette Newspaper
ANNAPOLIS, MD: Today’s edition of the the Capital Gazette for sale on a newspaper stand. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

When I first heard reports of gunfire at a Maryland newsroom, my immediate thought was: all that journalist-hatred that’s going around. It’s caught up with us.

Admit it, you thought that, too.

The thundering from the president of the United States, calling journalists “the enemy of the people.” The finger-pointing at the writers and camera people in the pens at the back of his rallies, the crowd turning around to spew vitriol at the people who report the news.

The wish expressed, just days ago, by alt-right bad boy Milo Yiannopolous, in a text message: “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight” – which he’s now calling a joke.

It turned out that the man who killed five and wounded several others at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis was someone with a longstanding grudge against the paper. He had been convicted of harassing a woman who had been a high school classmate. When a Capital Gazette columnist wrote about the case, he unsuccessfully sued the paper for defamation and began harassing it – including making online threats to writers and editors.

Every newsperson can imagine this happening. Every newsroom has unbalanced people like this in its orbit. When I worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer in the 1980s and ‘90s, we called them “wackjobs” — almost affectionately, as if to kid away the latent threats they represented — and we had a long list of them.

What’s different now is, today’s wackjobs have the models of mass shooters to go by. The Annapolis shooter, if he didn’t think Parkland or Pulse sufficient, had the example of the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, where two brothers attached to an Al Qaeda group shot 12 people to death for the crime of satire.

And because mass shootings are a contagion, we must assume this will happen again. There cannot be a newsroom in America that, upon hearing word of shots fired at a newspaper, did not immediately begin reassessing its security. Yes, that includes our own.

An undated photo provided by the newspaper shows Rob Hiaasen, an editor and a features columnist for The Capital in Annapolis, Md.
Rob Hiaasen

And there cannot be a newspaper in America where it did not feel as though members of your family have died. At some important level, all of us in this business feel connected, especially those of us who have retained our love and commitment to it for some years. I did not know the Annapolis victims personally, although anyone who worked at The Palm Beach Post 20 years ago has fond memories of Rob Hiaasen, whose personality was brought to life Thursday in a beautiful, mournful column by an old friend, Frank Cerabino.

Yet these losses feel personal.

We have become so used to mass shootings in this country – we alone among advanced nations – that we usually feel little more than weariness when absorbing the news of yet another one. It’s different when the victims are much like you. Just as no student or parent feels the same degree of security after schools are turned to battlefields and children to casualties, so today does no American journalist feel as safe as we did before colleagues were slaughtered Thursday in their workplace.

And in the background, I keep hearing that hum: “Fake news.” “They lie.” “They make up sources.”

Today President Trump, in a show of sympathy for the Capital Gazette victims, said, “Journalists, like all Americans, should be free of the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.”

The gall.

This is a man who, using the biggest podium in the world, tears relentlessly into the honesty and patriotism of the reporters and news outlets whose job is to fulfill the ideal of uncovering and telling the truth.

And because the truth is often unflattering and threatening to this man, he has waged a three-year war against the credibility of journalists, just as he attacks the credibility of an independent judiciary, the FBI and members of Congress he can’t bring to heel.

No one has inflamed the present atmosphere more than he, this man who occupies the highest office in our land. He has set a tone which he feeds at every rally and almost every day on Twitter.

I am not blaming him for Thursday’s tragedy in Annapolis. But I do charge him with injecting a sense of hatred into the soul of this nation that journalists do not deserve and which — in a country with more guns than people — may all too easily turn into bloodshed.

All over social media, journalists have been sharing their thoughts. Some of the best came from a Sun Sentinel reporter, Ben Crandell, a former colleague of mine. On Facebook he wrote:

“There is not much money to be made as a reporter at a daily newspaper such as the Capital Gazette. There is no glamour, no prestige. There is only the benefit of knowing that they helped inform their neighbors about things they need to know, entertained them with a story they hadn’t heard, made them chuckle, or shed some light on the pivotal play that won the big game at the high school.

“There is no fake news at a daily newspaper such as the Capital Gazette. It would take too much time. Reporters there are only good at what they’ve been trained to do: Ask the questions readers would want asked, collect information, confirm the facts, discard information that cannot be confirmed, snap the facts together into a story that fairly represents what they’ve seen and heard, and submit the story to an editor, maybe several, who reconfirms the facts before publication.

“If there has been a mistake in one of their stories, they write an explanation with the correct information so it can be published on the website and in a prominent spot in the next day’s paper.

“And then they go home to coach the volleyball team, care for an ailing loved one, do military reserve training, volunteer at the church, see a band, drink a beer, cut the grass. They are not just like you – they are you.”

Goodman: GOP’s split on Trump forgotten when it comes to coddling financial firms

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., left, and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., right, neither running for reelection, have lashed President Donald Trump with scorching criticism. Here they are in 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

 

Disarray? What disarray?

Yesterday, political reporters and pundits were panting over the bare-knuckled, full-throated criticisms of President Donald J. Trump by two Republican senators: Bob Corker, of Tennessee, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Jeff Flake, the junior senator from Arizona whose political idol is conservative icon Barry Goldwater.

It was unprecedented to have two Republican stalwarts lambaste a Republican president in such dire terms, especially on the same day.

Corker: Trump has “great difficulty with the truth” and “the debasement of the nation is what he’ll be remembered most for.”

Flake: “Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is, when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified.”

This all points, the pundits said, to a great schism between the Trumpists who hold the party regulars in fear, and the liberated few who have been freed to speak against the unclothed emperor because they have opted out of re-election.

And yes, it does speak to a great split between those willing to denounce the danger of Donald Trump’s “reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior,” as Flake called it, and the many toadies who may shudder in private but who shut up in public for the greater cause of passing big tax breaks for the wealthy.

But just hours after Corker and Flake enunciated these noble and necessary statements, they joined with 48 of their fellow Republicans for a nighttime debate and vote to repeal a banking rule that would let consumers band together to sue their bank or credit card company to resolve financial disputes.

Or as it’s also called, GOP business as usual.

A vote from Vice President Mike Pence shortly after 10 p.m. broke a 50-50 tie to strike down the new rule, a major effort by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help consumers fight back against god-awful practices of financial institutions. The bureau is the watchdog created by Congress after the 2008 economic crisis.

One more legacy of the Obama years gets reversed.

The New York Times explains:

The rule, five years in the making, would have dealt a serious blow to financial firms, potentially exposing them to a flood of costly lawsuits over questionable business practices.

For decades, credit card companies and banks have inserted arbitration clauses into the fine print of financial contracts to circumvent the courts and bar people from pooling their resources in class-action lawsuits. By forcing people into private arbitration, the clauses effectively take away one of the few tools that individuals have to fight predatory and deceptive business practices. Arbitration clauses have derailed claims of financial gouging, discrimination in car sales and unfair fees.

The new rule written by the consumer bureau, which was set to take effect in 2019, would have restored the right of individuals to sue in court. It was part of a spate of actions by the bureau, which has cracked down on debt collectors, the student loan industry and payday lenders.

The vote was a big gift to that credit card company that’s hitting you with hidden charges. As the Washington Post put it:

The rules would have cost the industry billions of dollars, according to some estimates. With the Senate’s vote, Wall Street is beginning to reap the benefits of the Trump administration focus on rolling back regulations it says are strangling the economy.

Richard Cordray  (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

“Tonight’s vote is a giant setback for every consumer in this country,” Richard Cordray, the director of the consumer bureau, said in a statement. “As a result, companies like Wells Fargo and Equifax remain free to break the law without fear of legal blowback from their customers.”

The only two Republicans to join Democrats in voting against the measure were Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Kennedy of Louisiana.

Every other GOP member of the Senate, however they feel about Trump, fell in step when given the chance to coddle Wall Street. That includes Sen. John McCain, who made thinly veiled criticisms of Trump in a speech on Oct. 16 that warned against “half-baked, spurious nationalism.”

John McCain (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

 

You can be sure they’ll do the same thing when it comes to serving up big tax cuts to corporations and rich individuals (unless the so-far-unseen tax legislation contains details unacceptable to some members, as happened with health care).

The Consumers Union and several veterans groups, including the American Legion, lobbied to keep the rule. As well they should have, because class-action lawsuits are a way of putting a spotlight on misdeeds by businesses that would otherwise get little attention. They also allow groups of people to reclaim small amounts of money they otherwise wouldn’t have the time or money to go after.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader in the Senate, is not the most articulate of politicians. But he hit the nail on the head as the Senate neared its vote:

“Once again, we’re helping the powerful against the powerless.”

Goodman: CHIP falls, jeopardizing health for 342,000 kids in Florida

Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy last week, after the collapse of their Graham-Cassidy health care bill, the GOP’s latest attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

So intent were the Republicans in Congress on their latest gasping effort to gut Obamacare that they have threatened the health care of some 9 million children across the U.S., including almost 342,000 kids in Florida.

While all eyes were on the farcical Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the ever-dysfunctional Congress allowed funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, to expire. This happened on Saturday (Sept. 30). Unless Congress quickly plays catch-up, states are projected to run out of program funding over the next 12 months. Florida’s funding is foreseen to expire by sometime in January.

CHIP is a noncontroversial program that is routinely renewed. A bipartisan initiative, it was originally co-sponsored, in 1997, by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. The goal: Allow children from low-income families who live above the Medicaid threshold to obtain low-cost health insurance.

Children have no control over their financial circumstances, of course, so they’re especially vulnerable to the high price of health care — as well as to the need for checkups, immunizations, prescriptions and dental and vision care. All these have been covered under CHIP, as well as hospital care, lab work, x-rays and emergency services.

It’s funded primarily through federal funds that states match, $9.7 billion federal and $4 billion state funds in 2015. Florida is one of the states where parents are required to pay monthly premiums of $15 or $20 based on family income.

Just about everybody has been happy with this program for 20 years. But when you have a Congress that’s far more interested in grandstanding than governing, you get a fiasco like this.

All through September, almost every bit of energy on Capitol Hill was spent on the zombie-like moves by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., to bring repeal-and-replace back from the crypt where Sen. John McCain’s no vote had seemed to consign it in July. But this latest bill was even worse than the GOP’s previous versions and even Graham admitted that Republicans didn’t know what they were doing.

Democrats were so focused on defeating Graham-Cassidy that they weren’t paying much attention to the looming expiration of CHIP funding, either.

Hatch and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., did announce in September a plan for extending CHIP money for another five years and boosting funding over time. But that quickly got drowned out by all the drama over Graham-Cassidy.

A Senate and a House committee were scheduled to discuss bills today to continue CHIP funding. They’d better work fast. Arizona, Minnesota and North Carolina are projected to run out of funding by December. Funds for Florida’s 342,000 low-income children, infants and pregnant women would dry up soon after that.

Who is being affected? Dorothy R. .Novick, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, recently wrote this in the Washington Post:

Every day I see patients in my practice who stand to lose their health care if Congress does not act to extend CHIP funding. Consider my patient who grew up in foster care, put herself through college and now earns a living as a freelance clothing designer. She is now a mother herself, and I treat her children. Her 1-year-old son has asthma and her 3-year-old daughter has a peanut allergy. They are able to follow up with me every three months and keep a ready supply of lifesaving medications because they qualify for CHIP.

Or consider the dad with a hearing impairment whose wife passed away two years ago. He supports his teenage daughters by working as a line cook during the day and a parking attendant at night. He sends the girls to a parochial school. He lost their Medicaid when he was given extra hours at his restaurant last year. But I still see them because they qualify for CHIP.

Congress, get to work.

 

Goodman: Alexandria shooting shows ‘there’s too much hate’ in our politics, GOP congressman says

We don’t yet know the motives of the gunman who opened fire on Republican congressmen and staffers who were practicing at a peaceful park in Alexandria, Va., for a charity baseball game.

But the vitriol in Washington, D.C., is so intense over our politics, the divisions in America so bitter, that it is easy to jump to the same conclusion as Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., who was at the practice and survived the barrage of gunfire that severely wounded a colleague, Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and wounded three others.

“This hatefulness that we see in this country today over policy differences, it’s got to stop,” Davis told CNN. This is his “breaking point,” he said. The political rhetoric of hate and division, including on social media and the 24-hour news cycle, has to end.

“I think Republicans and Democrats need to use this today, today, to stand together and say, ‘Stop! Let’s work together. Let’s get things done. We can have our differences but let’s not let it lead to such hate.'”

Even if it turns out that the shooter, identified as James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill., had no political motive, it speaks volumes that the nation’s current animosities leap to mind when processing such unprovoked violence.

Can America ratchet down the animosities? Is this a warning of what may happen if we do not?

UPDATE 12:16 p.m.

Washington Post reports:

The man suspected of firing dozens of rounds into an Alexandria baseball field Wednesday morning has been identified by federal law enforcement officials as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill.

A Facebook page belonging to a person with the same name includes pictures of Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, and rhetoric against President Trump, including a post that reads: “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”

Hodgkinson was among those taken to a hospital Wednesday, and President Trump announced that he had died from “his injuries.”

Charles Orear, 50, a restaurant manager from St. Louis, said in an interview Wednesday that he became friendly with Hodgkinson during their work together in Iowa on Sanders’s presidential campaign. Orear said Hodgkinson was a passionate progressive and showed no signs of violence or malice toward others.

 “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Orear said when told by phone about the shooting.

Orear described Hodgkinson as a “quiet guy” who was “very mellow, very reserved” when they stayed overnight at the home of a Sanders’s supporter in Rock Island, Ill., after canvassing for the Vermont senator.

“He was this union tradesman, pretty stocky, and we stayed up talking politics,” he said. “He was more on the really progressive side of things.”

When informed that the suspect’s Facebook page prominently features Sanders’s image, the senator’s spokesman Michael Briggs said:

“Our prayers go out for a full recovery of Rep. Scalise, the congressional aides and police officers who were injured. We’ve got to stop the violence.”

Christie: Tough questions may signal tough re-election for Mast

Suzanne Reynolds of Jupiter plans to work to defeat Brian Mast in next election over his support of repealing and replacing Obamacare. (Photo/Bill DiPaolo)

Are U.S. Congressional District 18 voters having some buyer’s remorse when it comes to Rep. Brian Mast?

You can bet the Florida Democratic Party hopes so; especially after last month’s House vote for the controversial American Health Care Act — or Trumpcare

Mast, like other GOP House members (and some senators) around the country, has faced down some tough questioning from constituents at town halls the last few weeks. To the freshman congressman’s credit, he did not back down from his vote to essentially back President Donald J. Trump’s pledge to “repeal and replace” the troubled Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Before Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, met with constituents earlier this month, some protesters stood along PGA Boulevard to criticize his vote for a Republican health care bill. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Take this exchange with a voter, according to the Post’s George Bennett earlier this month:

“I am ‘pre-existing’ along with my family,” one woman told Mast at Tuesday’s meeting. “If they pull the ACA and they pull the pre-existing, what are we going to do?”

Said Mast: “This bill has my support because I absolutely do not believe that it will be pulling coverage from people with pre-existing conditions.”

Many in the crowd groaned, but Mast continued, saying “This is the reality. It is in word, written in the law, that you cannot do this. You cannot pull it away from people.”

“If they pull my pre-existing, can I come to your office and ask for your help to get insurance?” the woman asked Mast.

“I hope you do so, ma’am,” Mast replied.

Mast, who in 2010 lost both legs after stepping on a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, also told an occasionally raucous town hall meeting  in April:

“There are positives and negatives” in the health law known as Obamacare, said Rep. Brian Mast, who noted he gets his health care from the Veterans Health Administration. “I’m not going to pretend this is the easiest thing to work through.”

Indeed. And Dems are relishing that Florida’s 18th Congressional District, which includes Stuart, Port St. Lucie and part of northern Palm Beach County, an opening despite Mast winning last fall with 53.6 percent of the vote.

Politico reports that retired Army Major Corinna Robinson is talking to state and national Democrats about getting in, and she confirmed her interest. She has run unsuccessfully for Congress once before, but in South Dakota. In 2014, Robinson challenged GOP Rep. Kristi Noem in a campaign that generated very little outside attention, and lost 67-33. Robinson relocated to Florida in January for what Politico describes as “via a Pentagon job and Brookings congressional fellowship to support the counter-terrorism program at Joint Special Operations University at U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa.” (On the other side of the state.) One enthusiastic unnamed Democratic strategist praised Robinson as a “fucking unicorn.”

Worth mentioning: Another military veteran Pam Keith, who took 15 percent of the vote in the 2016 Senate primary, recently formed an exploratory committee.

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, smiles as he greets supporters during his successful campaign last fall. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Not sure what other Dems are interested in challenging Mast. But a pushover, he won’t be.

Despite taking hits at three town hall this year, he hasn’t backed down from meeting with constituents (like some of his congressional brethren).

Also while those town halls have been noticeably packed with Democrats, party leaders shouldn’t forget that his district leans to the right.

In April, attendee Rhonda Giacomelli of Palm Beach Gardens said the gathering didn’t provide an accurate picture of Mast’s Palm Beach County-Treasure Coast district.

“They are passionate Democrats and I applaud their enthusiasm,” Giacomelli said of Mast’s critics, “but they don’t represent this district.”

Will Mast be able to hold on to his seat in 2018? Take our poll here.

Goodman: Answer Comey’s firing with an independent probe into alleged Trump-Russia ties

In this Wednesday, May 3, 2017, photo, then-FBI Director James Comey pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. President Donald Trump abruptly fired Comey on May 9, ousting the nation’s top law enforcement official in the midst of an investigation into whether Trump’s campaign had ties to Russia’s election meddling.(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

UPDATE 12:34 p.m.

The New York Times and others are reporting that just days ago Comey asked Justice Department officials for a significant increase in money and personnel to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. The Times attributes its information to three congressional sources briefed on the request.

The timing of Mr. Comey’s request is not clear-cut evidence that his firing was related to the Russia investigation. But it is certain to fuel bipartisan criticism that President Trump appeared to be meddling in an investigation that had the potential to damage his presidency.

The F.B.I. declined to comment. But Sarah Isgur Flores, the Justice Department spokeswoman, said “the idea that he asked for more funding” for the Russia investigation was “totally false.” She did not elaborate. (New York Times)

****

President Donald J. Trump’s surprise firing of FBI Director James Comey instantly brings back the sick-to-the-stomach feeling of former President Richard Nixon’s infamous Saturday Night Massacre.

Once again, a president under investigation for suspected illegalities in his election has fired the man leading the investigation against him.

Once again, an existential question hovers over Washington and the nation at-large: Can the president be above the law? And if not, how is he to be held to account?

Trump’s stated reasons for firing Comey, as expressed in a memo prepared by Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — that Comey was unfair to Hillary Clinton by discussing her mishandling of emails in a press conference, though he declined to recommend her prosecution — makes no sense. If that were the reason, why now, 100-plus days into Trump’s presidency? And why should Trump, who led avid crowds in choruses of “Lock her up!” fire anyone for any lack of kindness to Hillary Clinton?

On the other hand, Trump gave Comey the boot on Tuesday afternoon just hours after CNN learned that federal prosecutors had issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of  former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn as part of the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Comey publicly confirmed the existence of that probe at a Senate hearing last week, disclosing that the investigation was being led jointly by the Alexandria U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

The subpoenas represent the first sign of a significant escalation of activity in the FBI’s broader investigation begun last July into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia.
The subpoenas issued in recent weeks by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Virginia, were received by associates who worked with Flynn on contracts after he was forced out as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, according to the people familiar with the investigation. (CNN.com)

The worry now, by some Republicans in Congress as well as Democrats, is whether a Justice Department headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who concurred in Comey’s firing despite saying he would recuse himself from the both the Russia meddling and Clinton email matters, can be trusted to continue this investigation.

The investigation is crucial not for the purpose of damaging the president for partisan purposes, but to understand the depth of a foreign adversary’s interference in the exercise of American democracy.

It is imperative now that Congress regain its bearing as a co-equal branch of government and authorize or organize an independent investigation of Russia’s meddling in the election, and the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with those efforts.

Anyone out there disagree? Take our poll …

 

Christie: Other child victims also deserve President Trump’s attention, Post reader says

In this April 4 photo, Abdel Hameed Alyousef, 29, holds his twin babies who were killed during a suspected chemical weapons attack, in Khan Sheikhoun in the northern province of Idlib, Syria. France’s foreign minister says chemical analysis of samples taken from a deadly sarin gas attack in Syria shows that the nerve agent used “bears the signature” of President Bashar Assad’s government and shows it was responsible. (Alaa Alyousef via AP, File)

A few weeks ago President Trump, quickly reacting to 22 children being gassed, ordered a missile attack on a Syrian airfield. Because the use of gas is universally unacceptable, the president generally received bipartisan support for his action. Although the attack was somewhat knee jerk in nature, most people gave him a pass because children were involved.

A week later, 40 children were among the scores of people who died in Beirut while trying to find something to eat. A bomb explosion may not have the same visceral effect as gas, the carnage described in graphic detail. Unless I missed the coverage, there was no reaction from the White House, although, obviously, dead children are dead children, regardless of the cause.

With so many children dying in a relatively short period of time, I wonder whether anyone thought back to the tragic killings of 20 first-grade pupils in Newtown, Conn. One life is certainly as important as another. Yet all that was asked of our Congress was to pass more comprehensive regulations  on the sale of guns. Congress, or at least the Republicans in Congress, either have no conscience or have sold them to the NRA.

According to a Huffington Post article, “There Have Been Over 200 School Shooting Incidents Since The Sandy Hook Massacre,” (Dec. 14) and Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization of more than 3 million mayors, moms, cops, teachers, survivors, gun owners and everyday Americans working to end gun violence, there have been more than 200 school shootings since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, averaging about one shooting per week.

These shootings resulted in approximately 94 gun-related deaths and 156 injuries.

I find it difficult to comprehend why President Trump who campaigned for “America First” chooses as his first aggressive action an attack in Syria, rather than addressing the obvious problems at home. This is only one example of poor judgment our president has exhibited during his first 100 days in office.

BURT EDELCHICK, HOBE SOUND

Goodman: New House GOP’s first action doesn’t exactly ‘drain the swamp’

FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2016 file photo, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Republicans' grip on all levers of power stands as a mandate to the GOP-led Congress, which will move swiftly to try to undo eight years of outgoing President Barack Obama's agenda. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 8. On Monday, Ryan opposed the changes in House rules voted on by members, but today he defended them. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

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?

Letter: Congress must fix sober house issues

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary Gustavo Velasquez (right) and Congresswoman Lois Frankel (left) addressed members of the media in the Crest Theatre library in Delray Beach after meeting with local leaders to discuss sober homes Monday, May 2, 2016. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary Gustavo Velasquez (right) and Congresswoman Lois Frankel (left) after meeting with local leaders to discuss sober homes. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

Your staff writer, Joe Capozzi, deserves a reward for the information he gleaned from officials who attended the meeting with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary Gustavo Velasquez regarding sober homes in Palm Beach County neighborhoods.

Even though the meeting was closed to reporters, Capozzi managed to learn that HUD may try to respond to the problems presented by sober houses. Hopefully, this effort may occur thanks to The Post’s previous article that reported on how citizens are arming themselves out of fear surrounding this issue.

Nevertheless, I am not confident, given that Lois Frankel admits that Congress, where she serves, probably won’t help.

Instead, the HUD bureaucrat, in usual fashion, advises mayors across the country to create a legal defense fund, presumably at taxpayers’ expense, for the expenses involved. I am not confident on that approach, either.

Frankel needs to do the right thing and present a comprehensive bill, with her colleagues, that addresses the problems Congress created through the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, both of which are handcuffing our municipalities, which are striving to preserve safe environments for ourselves and our children.

DALE GLAESER, NORTH PALM BEACH