Tuesday, January 3, 2017

How Trump Saved House Republicans From Themselves on Ethics Blunder

We've been following this story since it broke last night, the trajectory of which has been quite remarkable to track. House Republicans foolishly opened the new year with a surprise move to weaken an internal ethics watchdog office, drawing immediate and widespread criticism from virtually all quarters -- from Elizabeth Warren to Judicial Watch. These condemnations were unfair, some supporters of the move argued, because the Office of Congressional Ethics was due to for significant and needed reforms. Members from both sides had become frustrated with the body's opacity, alleged foot-dragging, and selective leaks; some also contended that accused parties (often under investigation thanks to anonymous tips) deserve enhanced due process protections to defend themselves in the court of public opinion and elsewhere. A number of these complaints may be entirely justified, and certain changes may indeed be necessary. But springing an unexpected rules change with very little debate as virtually their first act of 2017 was at the very least a monumentally asinine PR move. The optics were just terrible, and some of the substance smelled fishy, too: No ability for the office to communicate with the public or press in any sanctioned capacity? And no more probes launched based on any anonymous tips, ever?  Sure, that provision would allow members to face their accusers, but it would also virtually guarantee that fewer whistleblowers would be willing to bathe malfeasance in sunlight, for fear of career-related reprisals. All in all, the change looked very much like a badly-conceived, heavy-handed, exceptionally poorly-timed incumbent protection racket -- and one that didn't even get the bipartisan buy-in that would have shielded the GOP against obvious lines of attack like this:


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