Congress lifted off to a dramatic start on Tuesday rejecting a proposed overhaul of the Office of Congressional Ethics. House Republicans, once confident in making the cuts, backed off of the measure after harsh criticism from President-elect Donald Trump.
House Republicans faced opposition from their new leader and from Democrats, adding an element of stress and chaos to what would have otherwise been an opening day full of ceremonies and excitement.
Republicans were initially onboard with scaling back the office and place it under lawmakers’ control, but the tides quickly turned after Trump took to Twitter to slam Republicans for entertaining the idea.
“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 asked on Twitter. “Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!”
Trump ended the tweet with “DTS,” which took on a variety of meanings during his presidential campaign. The former businessman-turned-politician commonly refers to “draining the swamp” when he talks about getting rid of outside interests in politics.
Once the tweet went out, House Republicans got the message. They called an emergency meeting where they voted against the cuts unopposed.
Responses were mixed over the measure.
South Florida Republicans said they were in favor of the cuts.
"I voted for Rep. Goodlatte's amendment to improve and reorganize the renamed Office of Congressional Complaint Review (OCCR) because it includes much needed oversight and accountability from the House Ethics Committee," U.S. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen told the Miami Herald. "The reforms will allow for due process rights for all parties involved and will ensure a fair hearing as Members of Congress seek to better serve our constituents."
U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, too, said he was in favor of scaling back the OCE. Once the votes were cast, the South Florida congressman advocated to reform the process.
“The House ethics process needs to be reformed in order to better investigate allegations of misconduct,” he said in a statement. “I support referring this matter to the House Ethics committee where Republicans and Democrats can work together on bipartisan reforms that would ensure Members of Congress are held accountable while given due process to address accusations.”
Other congressmen disagreed. U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis told the Tampa Bay Times he had always been against OCE cuts.
“I opposed this measure from the very beginning, and I am glad to see that it will not have a place in the 115th Congress,” he said. “I am confident that this House will continue to hold Members to the highest ethical standards, fully accountable to the people. The public’s trust must never be taken for granted.”
The vote presents an interesting dynamic for Congress regarding Trump. The President-elect, who is scheduled to take the reins of the country in three weeks, could wield large amounts of influence over the highly conservative Congress, pressuring the decision-making process with each 140-character tweet.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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