House Republicans have voted to cut the Office of Congressional Ethics against the wishes of top leaders. The office was established in 2008 due to corruption scandals when three members of congress were sent to jail.
The move occurred yesterday on the eve of Congress resuming. There was no prior debate or advanced notice on the measure. It was announced by Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee late Monday.
The Republicans are planning to push through a range of policies on health care to infrastructure. Taking away the Office of Congressional Ethics removes independence and power from the body giving it instead to lawmakers during internal inquiries.
Republicans control both houses of Congress in what is a historic shift.
The plan is to replace the Office of Congressional Ethics with the Office of Congressional Complaint Review. The new office would report to House Ethics Committee. The committee has been accused of ignoring credible allegations of wrongdoing in the past.
Some such as Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the majority leader, have spoken out against the measures.
In a statement, Mr Goodlatte said, “The amendment builds upon and strengthens the existing Office of Congressional Ethics by maintaining its primary area of focus of accepting and reviewing complaints from the public and referring them, if appropriate, to the Committee on Ethics. It also improves upon due process rights for individuals under investigation, as well as witnesses called to testify. The OCE has a serious and important role in the House, and this amendment does nothing to impede their work.”
Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader, hit back saying, “Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House G.O.P. has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions. Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”
The Republicans are eager to push through a range of policies in the first 100 days of Congress resuming.