The GOP's first act of governing: House Republicans vote to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics

The House of Representatives isn't just refusing to drain the swamp; they're throwing in more muck than ever

By Matthew Rozsa

Published January 3, 2017 12:45PM (EST)

 ((AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File))
((AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File))

As their first act of 2017, House Republicans voted late Monday night to put the Office of Congressional Ethics completely under the jurisdiction of the Republican-led House Ethics Committee, turning an independent office into a partisan operation.

The Goodlatte amendment — introduced by Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R- Virginia — was adopted by the party. According to the Washington Post, "Because Monday’s vote was taken in a private party meeting, there is no public tally of how members voted on the proposal."

The amendment would prohibit the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) from basing investigations off of anonymous tips against lawmakers, would limit the types of investigations about which they could publicly disclose their findings, and would even bar them from having a public spokesperson. Perhaps most ominously, the bill wouldn't allow the OCE to refer potential criminal violations to law enforcement agencies without receiving prior permission from the House Committee.

Several of the amendment's key sponsors are congressmen who have themselves been targeted by OCE investigations. These include Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas, who was accused of sexual harassment by a former staffer (the probe was ultimately dropped), and Rep. Pete Roskam of Illinois, who was accused of improperly accepting a gift from the Taiwanese government.

"The Goodlatte amendment builds upon and strengthens the existing OCE by maintaining its primary area of focus — accepting and reviewing constituent complaints — while improving upon due process rights for individuals under investigation, as well as witnesses called to testify," says an official congressional summary of the bill.

"Republicans claim they want to 'drain the swamp,' but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions. Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a statement following the vote on Monday. She later added, "The amendment Republicans approved tonight would functionally destroy this office."
The OCE was originally passed by Democratic congressmen in 2008 as a way of preventing a repeat of the Jack Abramoff scandal, which involved a Republican lobbyist who eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribe public officials. The scandal also led to the investigation of congressman, including former Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Ney, who served 30 months in prison as a result.

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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