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Republicans move to gut congressional ethics office

Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

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.