(REPORT) — One of the first orders of business for the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives as they reconvene Tuesday is to weaken the assembly’s independent ethics body by giving lawmakers more oversight over the corruption watchdog, which critics say is an attempt to shield themselves as they kick off a new legislative session in the era of President-elect Donald Trump.
As they returned to Washington following a holiday break, House Republicans voted Monday in a closed-door meeting to place the Office of Congressional Ethics under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee, giving lawmakers greater control over an independent body charged with investigating their own behavior.
The measure was added to a broader rules package that is expected to pass when the House formally convenes Tuesday.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who created the ethics office amidst complaints that lawmakers were unable to effectively police themselves, said Republicans were eliminating the only independent body charged with monitoring their actions.
“Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress,” Pelosi said in a statement after the closed-door meeting Monday.
The ethics office was created in 2008 following several corruption scandals, but the non-partisan body did not have the authority to punish lawmakers it deemed corrupt.
The body will now have to deliver its reports to lawmakers, rather than releasing them directly to the public, according to a summary released by Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte. It will be renamed the Office of Congressional Complaint Review.
The measure also defied the Republican leadership as House speaker Paul Ryan had opposed changing ethics rules. President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly vowed to “drain the swamp” in Washington by cracking down on corruption.
Several independent corruption monitors have sounded alarm over the controversial measure. Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, chair and vice chair of the non-partisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, slammed the measure as an assault on the people’s right to hold their representatives accountable.
“Undermining the independence of the House’s Office of Congressional Ethics would create a serious risk to members of Congress, who rely on OCE for fair, non-partisan investigations, and to the American people, who expect their representatives to meet their legal and ethical obligations,” Eisen and Painter said in a joint statement.
The move comes as Republicans who control both houses of Congress are poised to repeal major portions of President Barack Obama’s health and environmental regulations and enact a conservative agenda once Republican President-elect Donald Trump takes office on Jan. 20.
Gutting the independent ethics body, Eisen and Painter further warned, would see the House returning to the “dark days when ethics violations were rampant and far too often tolerated.”
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