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House Republicans change course on gutting ethics board

From WiG and AP reports

House Republicans, under pressure from President-elect Donald Trump, Democrats and good-government watchdogs, reversed course on a plan to gut an independent ethics board, according to a report from The AP.

The reversal came as representatives came together for the first day of the 115th Congress.

House Republicans had come under attack from Democrats, watchdog groups and also Trump over a secretive move to place the independent Office of Congressional Ethics under their control.

One vocal critic was U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., who said the “effort to take all investigative and oversight authority away from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics was a shameful first action for the new Congress.”

In an emergency meeting, faced with criticism, House Republicans voted to undo the change.

“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,” was the statement on Trump’s Twitter account.

Congress should be focused on tax reform and health care, the statement said, and there was a reference to draining the swamp.

“We were elected on a promise to drain the swamp and starting the session by relaxing ethics rules is a very bad start,” GOP Rep. Tom McClintock of California said, according to the AP.

Republican  Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma: “People didn’t want this story on opening day.”

The ethics office was created in 2008 after several bribery and corruption cases in the House.

Regarding Republicans’ amendment dealing with the ethics office, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., had issued this statement defending the move: “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.”

Kind stated, “I am glad my colleagues realized this mistake and decided not to pursue the change. At a time when the people of Wisconsin have lost trust in Washington further weakening transparency and accountability for members of Congress is not the way to rebuild that trust. I will continue to stand up for Wisconsinites by fighting against any future attempts to limit the transparency and accountability of government.”