Republicans withdraw plan to gut independent ethics body after Trump rebuke | world-news | Hindustan Times
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Republicans withdraw plan to gut independent ethics body after Trump rebuke

Republican lawmakers have withdrawn the plan to gut an independent office that investigates ethics violations by members, their aides and staff of the House of Representatives after a sharp rebuke from president-elect Donald Trump just hours ahead of the vote.

world Updated: Jan 04, 2017 00:39 IST
Yashwant Raj
President-elect Donald Trump listens to a question as he speaks to reporters at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach.
President-elect Donald Trump listens to a question as he speaks to reporters at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach.(AP File Photo)

Republican lawmakers have withdrawn the plan to gut an independent office that investigates ethics violations by members, their aides and staff of the House of Representatives after a sharp rebuke from president-elect Donald Trump just hours ahead of the vote.

“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. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!” Trump tweeted.

He signed off with “#DTS”, a reference to his election promise of ethics reforms to “drain the swamp” -- to end the influence of special interests and lobbyists in Washington DC.

Other party leaders such as Speaker Paul Ryan had also opposed the move, that was to be put to vote in a Republican controlled-House shortly after the new Congress took the oath of office on Tuesday. It is said to be the most racially diverse Congress in US history.

The decision to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent office comprised of private citizens — not elected lawmakers — was taken in a vote at a closed-door conference of Republicans on Monday.

The OCE was created in 2008 by Democrats in the aftermath of a corruption scandal involving DC lobbyist Jack Abramoff -- a Republican party lawmaker -- and several congressional and White House officials.

The House’s own Ethics Committee, drawn from members of the chamber, was found to be timid on moving complaints against other members and their aides. The OCE would be more vigilant, it was argued.

The office was empowered to act on its own on a tip from public or news reports, investigate it and then give a report to the House ethics committee for further actions.

The House Ethics Committee could reject the findings, and not act on them. But it was required to make the OCE report public, which could be sufficient deterrent for the committee to not dismiss charges quickly.

Republican lawmakers now intend to rename the OCE as the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, prohibit it from acting on anonymous tips and conduct investigation under close supervision of the House ethics committee.

“Poor way to begin draining the swamp,” Tom Fitton, president of the conservative group Judicial Watch, said on Twitter, adding, “Swamp wins with help of @SpeakerRyan, @RepGoodlatte (Representative Robert Goodlatte, who proposed the change).”

Leader of House Democrats Nancy Pelosi said in a 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.”

With the move being slammed from all quarters for running counter to Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp”, it was only a matter time before the president-elect himself jumped in himself. And he did, with a sharp rebuke.