This year is off to a promising start for “we the people.”
Led by President-elect Donald Trump, a loud message has been sent to the Republican-controlled Congress that business as usual – meaning sneaky and self-serving – won’t be tolerated.
House Republicans had to pull back their plan Tuesday to make the independent Office of Congressional Ethics a lapdog for the men and women of Congress.
After secretly voting 119 to 74 Monday night to back an amendment by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., that would have gutted the ethics watchdog office, the Republicans reversed course.
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Well, there were Trump’s tweets: “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 No. 1 act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!”
There also was an outpouring of phone calls and tweets to GOP members. The media and good-government groups did their part, too, reporting on the Republicans’ effort to pull a fast one on the first first day of the 115th Congress.
“We were just getting calls,” said Rep. David Brat, R-Va. “Part of it is the headlines.”
The Office of Congressional Ethics has not performed its job perfectly since its creation in 2008. Critics say that it violates the due-process rights of those accused of wrongdoing and often turns easily corrected record-keeping errors into long-term investigations.
Congress should debate and pass changes to the ethics-watchdog office in bipartisan fashion. However, the office should remain independent and be adequately funded.
It’s important to remember the office was created after a series of pay-to-play scandals and public perception that the House Ethics Committee was unwilling to aggressively pursue corrupt members of Congress. It’s always better to have a watchdog guard the henhouse than to leave it up to the foxes.
To their credit, members of the Valley’s GOP delegation knew from the start that Goodlatte’s amendment deserved a quick death.
“I was one of the first to the (microphone) as to why I didn’t think this was the best timing to do it,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield told reporters Tuesday.
“We were elected on a promise to drain the swamp, and starting the session by relaxing ethics rules is a very bad start,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, who represents a large portion of the Valley’s foothill and mountain regions.
We are under no illusions that swamp will ever be completely drained. But a vigilant citizenry and media can at least force the alligators to the surface.
Tuesday was a good day for democracy. More than that, it delivered evidence that when the backlash is big enough, Congress will listen.