The Associated PressWASHINGTON (AP) — The new GOP era in Washington got off to a messy start Tuesday as House Republicans, under pressure from President-elect Donald Trump, abruptly dropped plans to gut an independent congressional ethics board.
The dizzying about-face came as lawmakers convened for the first day of the 115th Congress, an occasion normally reserved for pomp and ceremony under the Capitol Dome. Instead, House Republicans found themselves under attack not only from Democrats but from their new president, over their secretive move Monday to neuter the independent Office of Congressional Ethics and place it under lawmakers’ control.
GOP leaders scrambled to contain the damage, and within hours of Trump registering his criticism on Twitter, they called an emergency meeting where House Republicans voted without opposition to undo the change.
The episode, coming even before the new Congress was convened and lawmakers were sworn in, was a powerful illustration of the sway Trump may hold over his party in a Washington that will be fully under Republican control for the first time in a decade. GOP lawmakers who’ve felt unfairly targeted by the ethics office had defied their own leaders with their initial vote to neuter the body, but once Trump weighed in they backpedaled immediately.
“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,” Trump had asked over Twitter on Tuesday morning, in an objection that appeared focused more on timing than on substance. Trump, who will take office in a little over two weeks, said the focus should be on tax reform and health care, and he included the hashtag #DTS, for “Drain the Swamp,” his oft-repeated campaign promise to bring change to Washington.
Democrats and even many Republicans were quick to point out that the lawmakers’ plans for their ethics watchdog flew in the face of that notion. The measure was part of a GOP-written rules package that looked like it could fail after Trump registered his objections amid a public outcry from good government activists. The stripped-down package was approved late Tuesday by the House, 234-193.
“We were elected on a promise to drain the swamp, and starting the session by relaxing ethics rules is a very bad start,” said GOP Rep. Tom McClintock of California.