The first big republican legislative power play has come just two days into the new year. House republicans voted on Monday night to gut Congress’s independent ethics watchdog. The vote, splitting out 119-74, would place the now independent Office of Congressional Ethics under the control of the politicians it is meant to oversee.
[Scroll Down for Video]
The vote comes as a bit of a surprise, as the members broke with the wishes of party leaders to take control of the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent, non-partisan body tasked with investigating misconduct against lawmakers, officers and staff of the United States House of Representatives.
This move comes on the eve of a massive power shift which will give control of the House, Senate, and White House to the Republican Party.
One aspect of this new proposal would bar the panel from investigating criminal violations by members of Congress. Instead they would turn over complaints to the House Ethics Committee. The House Ethics Committee may also get the control needed to stop investigations at any point in the process.
The new restrictions hamstrings transparency, too. The new rules prevent public statements about misconduct and prevent the Office of Congressional Ethics from hiring communications staff.
One of the most controversial pieces of the new proposal prevents the office from accepting or looking into any anonymous tips or allegations.
The full house must still vote on the proposal, and will do so Tuesday.
The move seems shocking to those in favor of oversight, but critics of the Office of Congressional Ethics say much of the office’s time is spent chasing down allegations that end up being partisan attacks, empty of substance.
Trump’s spokesperson Kellyanne Conway weighed in shortly after the announcement:
“If a constituent has a complaint, they can still lodge that complaint,” Conway said on NBC’s Today. “They just can’t do it anonymously. And many of these people — members and their staffers who have been under investigation — they have complained about their due process rights being violated and compromised. They need protections, as well.”
Trump was slower to respond and waited until Tuesday, when he tweeted his feeling on the decision.
The opposition to the move is bitter. Democrat Nancy Pelosi issued this statement:
“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. The amendment Republicans approved tonight would functionally destroy this office.”