The story that first caught my eye was in the January 2 New York Times:
“The move to effectively kill the Office of Congressional Ethics was not made public until late Monday, when Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced that the House Republican Conference had approved the change. There was no advance notice or debate on the measure.”
The next morning (Tuesday, January 3rd), Politico published an article saying that Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway claimed the move would “cut down on overzealousness”. Hello??? Does anybody see a problem here??? First of all, we just elected the some of the most corrupt politicians in the history of the nation. Secondly, had it not been for the actions of certain congressmen nearly a decade ago, we would not have needed to establish an independent Ethics Committee in the first place.
The Committee on Ethics was established in 2008 in the aftermath of a series of scandals involving House lawmakers, including three who were sent to jail. Unlike the House Ethics Committee, the Office of Congressional Ethics is an independent committee, leaving less room for simply sweeping dirt under the rug. If you take a look at Wikipedia’s “List of American federal politicians convicted of crimes”, I think you will be amazed by how many of those we entrust our nation to have been convicted of crimes. I was surprised by the sheer number.
“Republicans, led by Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, had sought to prevent the quasi-independent ethics office from taking up investigations that might involve criminal charges, and they wanted to grant lawmakers on the more powerful House Ethics Committee the right to shut down any of the inquiries. They also wanted to block the small staff at the Office of Congressional Ethics from speaking to the news media.” – New York Times, 03 January 2017
It is a sad statement that we need a committee to provide oversight of our elected officials … the employees we have entrusted with our lives, but obviously we do. There has been much controversy from both sides of the aisle regarding the Office of Congressional Ethics, and I think it was probably past time to review and upgrade the committee’s role and tactics. But, as the old saying goes, you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Had the representatives gone about addressing this issue in the proper manner, it may have actually resulted in positive changes, but instead they chose to conduct a secretive closed-door meeting late Monday, before the first official day of the new Congress. This was dark-of-night, no-prying-eyes stuff, done over the objections of Paul Ryan, the House speaker, who could sense how disastrously it would play in the media. And play in the media it did! So much so that ….
Yes, you heard right. Here’s how it went down. Once the story broke on Tuesday morning, hundreds of phone calls flooded lawmakers’ offices and both conservative and liberal ethics groups issued statements condemning the move. So did some Republican lawmakers, who said it was the wrong message to send to the public. And then Trump used his Twitter finger:
“With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as itmay be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!”
Well, I applaud his decision, but as columnist Frank Bruni notes, “This was like a crackhead dad fuming at his kids for smoking a little weed.” I agree, and I wonder, had the news not gone public, had there been no hue and cry, would Trump have been as incensed, or would he have patted them on the shoulder and said, “Good job, boys!”?
This entire episode is disturbing, as one must wonder if these late-night, clandestine meetings are going to become a regular means for our elected officials, our employees, to get their way? I said a few days ago that we will all need to be vigilant and watch closely what both the president and congress do, but they have started off, the day before the session began, by being sneaky, underhanded, and undermining our trust … what little we may have had. This makes the job of being a conscientious observer even harder! It is also disturbing from the standpoint that they obviously do not consider themselves to be accountable to We The People, and that is a huge problem. As far as I am concerned, they have already lost what little credibility they had. Yet a third thing disturbs me: If their highest order of the session was to dismantle the independent Ethics Committee …. Why? Do they already plan on breaking the law and want to ensure they can get away with it without the public finding out? Do they believe that they are somehow above the law? Noam Chomsky has called the U.S. a plutocracy (government by the rich), and last year former President Jimmy Carter referred to the U.S. as an oligarchy (government by a small group of people). A line from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address serves well here:
“ … we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Think about it.