Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.
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Republicans move to gut congressional ethics office

In the 2004 elections, voters handed Republicans control over the White House, Senate, House, and gubernatorial offices. With Democrats lacking any levers of power, Republicans were in a truly dominant position for the first time in a generation.

Almost immediately, GOP officials got to work … weakening ethics rules. Led by then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), congressional Republicans moved swiftly – behind closed doors, with no Democratic input – to ease the ethics burdens on members of Congress.

As longtime readers may recall, a young congressman by the name of Mike Pence was especially fond of weaker ethics rules.

The results weren’t pretty. In the ensuing Congress, an astonishing number of members, nearly all of whom were Republicans, were caught up in a series of damaging scandals – remember the Abramoff affair? – some of which put members of Congress behind bars. Democrats ran against “the culture of corruption” two years later and won both chambers.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 1/2/17, 9:30 PM ET

House GOP moves to end independent ethics oversight of Congress

Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post congressional reporter, talks with Rachel Maddow about breaking news that House Republicans have moved to put the independent Office of Congressional Ethics under the House Ethics Committee, effectively scrapping the idea of…
In the 2016 elections, voters once again put Republicans in a dominant position. And just like 12 years ago, GOP lawmakers, before tackling any other priority, met behind closed doors to weaken their own ethics rules. NBC News reported overnight:
Just hours before the 115th Congress gavels in, House Republicans voted to weaken the independent ethics office that investigates House lawmakers and staff accused of misconduct.

During a closed-door meeting Monday, by a vote of 119 to 74, House Republicans defied their leadership to adopt an amendment by Rep Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to place the Office of Congressional Ethics, known as OCE, under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee.

The move effectively gives the ethics oversight and investigative role to the lawmakers themselves and prevents information about investigations from being released to the public.
The changes, adopted by Republicans who debated among themselves in secret, are surprisingly broad. Vox’s report added, “The House committee could force the office to stop an investigation at any time, and the office would be prevented from accepting and investigating anonymous tips. The office would no longer be able to relay an issue to law enforcement if it determines a crime is committed.”

It’s easily the biggest rollback of ethics rules since the last time Republicans swept a national election.

That the GOP majority has made this the first priority of the new Congress, which begins today, suggests the country is in for a rough ride for the next two years. That these same Republicans have also said they intend to ignore Donald Trump’s ethics scandals only adds insult to injury.

As Rachel’s segment on the show last night emphasized, these changes are not yet a done deal. The GOP majority agreed to gut the ethics rules last night, but every member of the House will vote today on the new rules package for the 115th Congress. If the controversy surrounding Republican plans to gut their own ethics process gets too intense, it’s entirely possible members will end up undoing the decision made behind closed doors last night.

That, too, would be a replay of their 2004 actions: after initially voting to allow members under criminal indictment to serve in the House Republican leadership, GOP lawmakers eventually reversed course, restoring the ethics rule they’d weakened.

Corruption, Culture of Corruption and House Republicans

Republicans move to gut congressional ethics office