You know something is really bad wrong when one of your country’s two major parties decides, behind closed doors, to eviscerate the nation’s independent ethics committee on day-one of the new Congress. That’s what House GOP leadership attempted to do last week.
Meeting secretly the night before the new Congress was to begin, House Republicans voted 119 to 74 to nullify the authority of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), an independent body they created back in 2008 to investigate congressional ethics violations. The plan would have placed charges of corruption and ethical misconduct under the House Ethics Committee which is controlled by Republicans. Rules they planned to implement would have disallowed any findings be made public and that referrals to law enforcement couldn’t be made without their approval.
That was the clandestine plan of the House GOP last Monday, on the eve of Congress being gaveled into session. But fortunately, among all those ethically challenged GOP members there was at least one member who realized this was wrong and notified the media.
Once the word got out and the media–both social and news–got wind of the plan and relayed it to the American public, the response was overwhelming from all sides of the political spectrum.
Representative Walter Jones (R-NC) told Bloomberg News the next day, “We have got just a tremendous number of calls to our office here and district offices concerned about this.”
As the result of the outcry against such a move, the House GOP was forced to back-peddle on the idea. At least for now.
A number of the media outlets gave credit for this turnabout to president-elect Donald Trump and his tweets on the matter. But they were wrong. Trump didn’t have a problem with the idea per se, just the timing of it. The timing wasn’t good, he said. And Trump is a master of timing.
Writing in Mother Jones, Kevin Drum predicted that “they’ll ‘study changes’ and then gut the office in August, when everyone is on vacation.”
There is good reason for the GOP to be concerned about ethics and ethics violations. Their in-coming leader, president-elect Donald Trump, is ethically challenged. The man doesn’t have an ethical bone in his body, which should be obvious to anyone who has seen and heard him speak or tweet over the past year. He has huge ethical issues. And these issues are going to be addressed.
As a matter of fact, those ethical concerns have already been raised by the office that the House GOP tried to muzzle last week. Writing to Senate leaders the other day, the director of the OGE, Walter Shaub, expressed their concern over the cabinet hearings that are due to take place this week.
“During the presidential transition” writes , not all of the nominees presently scheduled for hearings have completed the ethics review process. In fact, OGE has not received even initial draft financial disclosure reports for some of the nominees scheduled for hearings.”
This, like most of what Donald Trump has done in his run for president, is unprecedented writes Shaub. Up until this week such financial disclosures have been required by the Ethics in Government Act, which was passed after the Watergate scandal.
“In the past,” writes Shaub, “the ethics work was fully completed prior to the announcement of nominees in the overwhelming majority of cases.”
Despite this, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, says the confirmation hearing will proceed as scheduled this week. It should be noted that if every unethical bone were to be removed from Senator McConnell’s body, he would bear a striking resemblance to a large jelly fish.
Norm Ornstein, writing in The Atlantic, observes that “the core of America’s political system depends on real checks and balances, on a Congress that puts country ahead of party. The House leadership (has shown by its actions) that party comes first.”
Ethics shouldn’t be a partisan issue, it shouldn’t be a part of GOP ideology. Those of us who believe a strong democracy depends on our ethical values, need to do what we did last week and pressure our legislative leaders to do the right thing and require all the president-elect’s nominees to complete the required paperwork before they are voted on by Congress.
Who would have thought that we as American citizens would have to force our elected leaders to do the ethical thing, but unfortunately, we now live in such a time.
Related articles: Ready or not, Republicans say Cabinet hearings will begin Tuesday.
Photo: GOP leadership having a good laugh, probably at the expense of America’s voters.
Photo credit: Getty Images