US Republicans back down on curtailing independent ethics office after outcry

Zach Gibson / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP file picture | The Capitol Building in Washington, DC

US House Republicans scrapped Tuesday a controversial rules change that would have gutted a congressional ethics office, after President-elect Donald Trump rebuked the strategy hours before lawmakers were to vote on the measure.


"The amendment was removed from the rules package by unanimous consent of the conference," a Republican leadership aide told AFP.

Party lawmakers earlier took bold action just before the new Republican-controlled Congress was seated, acting late Monday night -- and without participation by Democrats -- to hobble an independent ethics office which has investigated corruption allegations against members of Congress.

The move was severely criticized by Democrats and some Republicans as undermining transparency, and it put Republicans on a collision course with Trump, who expressed skepticism about the move on Day One of the 115th Congress.

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"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 tweeted Tuesday.

"Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!"

The move, had it passed the Republican-led House of Representatives, would have taken ethics oversight away from an independent group and given much of the authority to the lawmakers themselves.

The proposal by Republican congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia would have gutted the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

House Speaker Paul Ryan opposed changing ethics rules but legislators disregarded his leadership on the issue.

Goodlatte maintained that altering the ethics review process "strengthens the mission" of the office.

Several in his party, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, stressed that pressing ahead with such changes at the dawn of a new era in Washington -- with Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress and Trump taking the White House on January 20 -- was lousy optics.

An outcry from some members of Congress, as well as messages from the public, helped reverse the Republican action, Democratic lawmakers said.

"@HouseGOP tried to weaken ethics oversight. The people fought back," House Democrat John Sarbanes wrote on Twitter.


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