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The House GOP plan to kill its ethics watchdog is 'dead for now, but not forever'by Emily Atkin
Issues#SwampThings

Watch| House Republicans have backed away from their plan to eliminate Congress' independent ethics watchdog -- for now. Here's why you should keep paying attention to the Office of Congressional Ethics.

A temporary solution?

On Tuesday, House Republicans decided to reverse their controversial plan to effectively kill the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). And when it happened, good government groups, lawmakers, and members of the public from both sides of the aisle seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

But the relief may be only temporary. 

Some House members still want to gut OCE

According to multiple reporters, some members of the House still want to gut the independent ethics watchdog -- if not now, then at some point in the near future.

"[Members] say the OCE change is dead for now but not forever," Washington Post reporter Robert Costa tweeted after the Tuesday vote. "Many want to return to this issue soon."

Here's Costa's full tweet.

Bloomberg's Sahil Kapur also reported that the issue could come up again.

The background

Members of the House Republican caucus caused an uproar Monday night after voting to effectively gut the OGE, an independent body created in 2008 to rein in misconduct by members of Congress.

The vote was widely unexpected, and came in a closed-door evening session the day before the opening of the new Congress. The effort "was led, in part, by lawmakers who have come under investigation in recent years," according to Politico.

Why did they do it?

The move was spearheaded by House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). Under his proposal, the independent OCE -- tasked to investigate lawmakers -- would be controlled by lawmakers themselves. His proposal would also ban the OCE from considering anonymous tips, and would have stopped the office from publicly disclosing its findings.

Goodlatte said his proposal was intended to "improve upon due process rights for individuals under investigation, as well as witnesses called to testify."

In an op-ed, Goodlatte said his proposal would "strengthen" the OCE.

If we continue down this path, we're going to see return to serious political scandals being the order of the day.

John Wonderlich

'Scandalous'

Others, however, disagreed.

"What we're seeing so far is an attempt to immediately revert to some of the most scandalous periods of our history," John Wonderlich, executive director of the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation, told Circa.

Why hate on the OCE?

Wonderlich said some lawmakers don't like the OCE because of the sheer fact that sometimes, they come under investigation. And even if a probe doesn't reveal anything scandalous, the lawmaker in question still has to deal with inevitable public relations debacles.

"Every time the Office of Congressional Ethics releases a report, it often buys them another enemy from a member of Congress who resents them for doing their job," Wonderlich said.

A 'political liability'

"That's part of why we're seeing this effort to remove [the OCE's] power," Wonderlich continued. "Because every time they do anything, another Congressional office is generally frustrated by the fact that they're shedding light on what actually happens in the Congress."

"I think members of Congress just view it as disruptive to have someone looking into their ethics, because it's a political liability."

Could it come up again?

Though the proposal to gut the OCE seems dead for now, it's not unreasonable to think it could come up again -- both because of lawmakers' desires, and president-elect Donald Trump's position on the issue.

Though Trump on Tuesday expressed opposition to the GOP plan, he mainly criticized the timing of the decision. In a series of tweets, Trump said he  does think the OCE is "unfair."

Trump's Twitter comments on the issue, part one. 

Trump's Twitter comments on the issue, part two.  

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