Senate attempts to gut ethics committee
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To start off their first day of 2017 in power, House Republicans took a closed-door vote to decide the fate of the independent ethics office. They came close to eliminating it, but backed off once they faced harsh criticism from watchdog ethics groups and Democrats.
It was a 119 to 74 vote in favor of renaming the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to Office of Congressional Complaint Review and placing it under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee.
The OCE is an independent body which oversees and investigates ethics complaints. It is led by eight people: four from the Democratic Party and four from the Republican Party. They are not allowed to be current members of Congress or work for the federal government.
It’s main job is to evaluate and investigate Congress members. Their website explains that their mission is “to assist the U.S. House in upholding high ethical standards with an eye toward increasing transparency and providing information to the public.”
The Independent Ethics Office was created in 2008 in the midst of congressional scandals such as the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal where he was sentenced to six years in prison for tax evasion, mail fraud, and bribing public officials. Also, Republican Party House member Tom DeLay was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy charges.
The House already had a committee to investigate members of Congress called the House Ethics Committee- which is run by Congress members, but they decided they needed an extra committee; thus, the OCE was established.
Some lawmakers do not like the OCE because they claim the office treats them unfairly while others do not like that the OCE’s findings are made public. Congress wants to be in control of what findings should be made public, which is why they want to gut the OCE, according to The Washington Post.
The House has been criticized for this vote, even by President Donald Trump.“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! #DTS,” Trump said in two consecutive tweets.