One day after triumphantly gutting the House Office of Congressional Ethics, the House GOP caucus beat a hasty retreat in the face of public outcry and a sternly worded tweet from the Great Orange Satan.
House Republicans, facing a storm of bipartisan criticism, including from President-elect Donald J. Trump, moved early Tuesday afternoon to reverse their plan to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics. It was an embarrassing turnabout on the first day of business for the new Congress, a day when party leaders were hoping for a show of force to reverse policies of the Obama administration.
The reversal came less than 24 hours after House Republicans, meeting in a secret session, voted, over the objections of Speaker Paul D. Ryan, to eliminate the independent ethics office. It was created in 2008 in the aftermath of a series of scandals involving House lawmakers, including three who were sent to jail.
Republicans, led by Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, had sought to prevent the quasi-independent ethics office from taking up investigations that might involve criminal charges, and they wanted to grant lawmakers on the more powerful House Ethics Committee the right to shut down any of the inquiries. They also wanted to block the small staff at the Office of Congressional Ethics from speaking to the news media.
“It has damaged or destroyed a lot of political careers in this place, and it’s cost members of Congress millions of dollars to defend themselves against anonymous allegations,” Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, said on Tuesday, still defending the move.
But the resolve to curb the powers of the Office of Congressional Ethics crumbled Tuesday morning, as hundreds of phone calls flooded lawmakers’ offices and both conservative and liberal ethics groups issued statements condemning the move. So did some Republican lawmakers, who said it was the wrong message to send to the public.
“It was a stumble,” Representative Mark Sanford, Republican of South Carolina, who himself was the subject of an ethics investigation while he served as governor in South Carolina. “Probably not the way you want to start out.”
Mr. Trump had weighed in himself, suggesting that the House should instead be focused on domestic policy priorities. In a pair of postings on Twitter, Mr. Trump called the Office of Congressional Ethics “unfair,” but he said turning attention to it now was a case of misplaced priorities. He appended the hashtag “DTS,” an apparent allusion to his promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington.
If anything saves the republic in the next four years, it may well be the fact that Paul Ryan has no control over his own caucus, and that at any moment they may break ranks and start flinging feces all over the place.
Talk about an unforced error right out of the gate. Wow.