So, this is what actually happened on Monday in Washington.
Are you watching any of this? I’m talking about what transpired on Monday night and on Tuesday, the very first day of the 115th Congress. It was so… umm. Actually, I don’t even know how to describe it… there are so many potentially appropriate options.
Nefarious stupidity? Shameful cloddishness? Juvenile imprudence?
They all could be said to fit the bill, but in this situation I don’t think we need a clever catch phrase to describe what went on, because simply describing the actual event is more than enough to paint the picture.
I’m not talking about Donald Trump, I’m talking about House Republicans.
I’m sure you’ve heard the basic story by now…
The House Republicans apparently decided that, since they’re now in charge of everything, the very first thing they should do is hold a closed door meeting and secret ballot vote in order to abolish the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent, nonpartisan ethics board established in March of 2008. Here’s what the OCE’s website says about the entity’s role…
“The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) is an independent, non-partisan entity charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against Members, officers, and staff of the United States House of Representatives and, when appropriate, referring matters to the House Committee on Ethics.”
The site goes on to explain that the OCE is governed by an eight person board, made up of “private citizens with expertise in ethics law and investigations, that are prohibited from serving as Members of Congress or working for the federal government.”
The stated mission of the OCE is: “… to assist the House in upholding high standards of ethical conduct for its Members, officers, and staff and, in so doing, to serve the American people.”
(If you want to read about OCE investigations click HERE.)
Okay, so it doesn’t sound like something that you’d rush to eliminate on day one in a secret vote, does it? I mean, I don’t remember the OCE’s disbandment being bandied about during the campaign as one of the major problems facing America today, do you?
Regardless, the majority of House Republicans decided that they didn’t want some independent, non-partisan group able to look into their ethical peccadillos or predations. It’s understandable… after all… who would want such independent oversight if they could get rid of it?
I’m pretty sure that the majority of police officers would like to cast a secret vote in favor of abolishing Internal Affairs divisions too, were such a thing possible.
So, they decided to hold a Republicans-only meeting on the evening of New Years Day to approve an amendment that would place the OCE under the oversight of the lawmaker-run House Ethics Committee. In other words, they wanted to eliminate the independence of the OCE by putting its function under congressional rule.
It’s simple really… they only want congress to be able to investigate reports of congressional malfeasance… you know… in private, without busy body citizens or transparency gumming up the works.
The amendment was introduced behind closed doors on Monday evening by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). I had no idea what Goodlatte was all about, but when he said that his amendment would only “strengthen” the OCE, it saved me the time I would have spent looking him up.
Obviously, he’s a jackass. You have to be a jackass to describe his amendment as strengthening anything and besides, who needs a closed door meeting and secret ballot to introduce legislation that strengthens something?
I don’t like it when politicians lie, but I really hate it when they treat me like I’m four.
Ooops? Not a chance.
We should all understand that this wasn’t any sort of last minute idea that no one had time to consider carefully.
Drafting such an amendment isn’t something that gets thrown together in a matter of hours or even days, and yet this one was all polished up and ready to be rubber stamped without notice or debate… and by a Republicans only vote… the moment House Republicans figured that no one was watching.
Add to that their use of a “secret ballot,” which protects the identity of those voting in favor of the amendment, shows that House Republicans knew exactly what they were doing here. They knew many constituents wouldn’t like it, but they figured they could get away with it because there wasn’t anyone around with the power to stop them.
And so, the House Republicans passed Goodlatte’s amendment Monday evening… the night before the new Congress was to be sworn in… by a vote of 119 to 74.
The secret ballot vote…
What happened next was so easily predictable that it was almost like predicting tomorrow’s sunrise. Although the House Republicans tried everything to make sure what they were doing went unnoticed, but wonder of wonders, somehow their little “secret” got out.
The whole story was first reported in detail on Monday night by Eric Lipton of the New York Times, but he wasn’t the only journalist on the case. Lipton’s article was immediately followed by… I don’t know… a very long list of other journalists from, roughly speaking… everywhere.
And guess what? A lot of folks didn’t like the idea at all.
In political parlance I believe it would be safe to say that the idea of taking away the OCE’s “independence” received “pushback,” and not just from Democrats and government watchdog groups… no, this time the pushback came from left, right and center… high, low and middle.
Basically, it came from everywhere, but I was especially pleased to see that the list of those pushing back included the president-elect himself.
Yes, even Donald Trump couldn’t sit back and watch this happen without tweeting something in response because this time what the Republicans had done was even too stupid for him to fein ambivalence, pretend it was a good idea or look the other way. Here’s what he said on Twitter…
“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. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!”
That may be the single most presidential thing I’ve ever heard him say, by the way, and I was glad he said it. No, more than glad, I was elated… so much so that it actually made me feel a lot better about him being our next president because it showed me that he can recognize when something is, let’s say, over the top. Until now, I wasn’t sure he had that ability.
In addition, both House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, spoke out against the amendment on Monday night, according to the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ reported that, “according to someone in the room,” Ryan advocated for a “bipartisan action to overhaul the office.”
The “pushback” also included untold thousands of phone calls and emails to congressional offices all over the country, demonstrating the sort of displeasure and disdain that makes our elected officials feel like Christian Scientists with appendicitis.
So, by Tuesday, the House Republicans backed down from the whole thing… as in, okay this was a bad idea… never mind.
Of course, the Democratic talking heads wasted no time pointing out that Trump shouldn’t get any credit for causing the House Republicans to abandon their attempt at eliminating independent ethics oversight. They rightly point out that it wasn’t his tweet that placed intense pressure on the House Republicans, rather it was the thousands of phone calls and emails from constituents that caused Republicans, in the words of Monty Python, to “RUN AWAY!”
In reality, it’s impossible to know how much Trump’s tweet influenced things. As you might expect, reports showed opinions from in and around Capitol Hill to range from “not at all” to “entirely,” but I don’t think it matters one way or the other.
Trump was right to say what he did, he agreed with and supported the people of this country as he promised he would, and it took some courage to get involved at all. After all, with only a few weeks until his inauguration, he could have just as easily ignored it… and he doesn’t need to make enemies in congress now, especially over such an obscure issue.
What difference does it make to what degree House Republicans backed down as a result of Trump’s tweet as opposed to in response to the widespread anger expressed by innumerable constituents within hours of the supposedly secret ballot vote?
On Tuesday afternoon, reporters asked Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) if he thought Trump’s tweet had any effect on the decision by Republicans to back away from the OCE vote. His response indicated that more than Trump was involved…
“I could have told you last night when we left that this would be undone.”
Rep. Pete King (R-NY) chalked it up to a combination of factors…
“The fact that there was the backlash, the fact that Trump weighed in and the fact that this is what Paul and Kevin said last night was going to happen.”
According to talkingpointsmemo.com…
“The pressure kept on coming. Republican leaders were accused of losing control of their conference or worse not caring much at all about gutting an independent ethics body in the first place. Republicans– even those who had supported the plan– said they’d been taken aback by the controversy they’d stirred and they admitted the timing might have been a bit off.”
The timing might have been a bit off? See what I mean? There’s not a lot for a writer to do when they write the punchlines for you.
These guys were “taken aback” by the “controversy they’d stirred up?”
They held a closed door Republicans-only meeting on New Years Day night in order to use a secret ballot vote to disband independent oversight of congressional ethics… and they were “taken aback” that a lot of folks on both sides considered what they’d done to be objectionable?
Taken aback… that does mean surprised, doesn’t it?
How can that be possible? Someone was surprised. Come on… we’re not talking about third graders here, damn it. These are not only adults, they’re accomplished adults. These are the same minds that we’ve entrusted to fix health care, protect us from terrorist attacks and ensure global economic stability. If the pushback surprised anyone even a little… well, then they surprise way too easily.
“I think it’s just a timing issue,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). “There are other things that we have to do today and tomorrow and it’s not worth dwelling on.”
Oh, I’m not sure I agree with that… I think it does deserve some dwelling for at least two reasons: One is related to what they wanted to do… and the other is because of how they attempted to do it.
I don’t care which side of the aisle you’re on, what the House Republicans did here clearly shows the dangerous level of hubris that’s shared among House Republicans now that they feel like they alone are running the show.
Imagine if you were in the “secret” meeting on Monday night and someone said… I think we should do this. What would you have said?
“Umm, hang on a minute. Are we really thinking we can keep this a secret? And aren’t we concerned that many Americans won;t like that the very first thing we did with our newfound power was to try to secretly abolish the independent and bi-partisan ethics investigator?”
Or maybe you would have been more direct, as in…
“Are you people completely crazy?”
That would have been my way of handling it, but we all approach things differently I suppose. The one thing I can tell you that I wouldn’t have said was…
“Sounds great… let’s vote.”
Doing what they did shows monumentally poor judgment, in it’s best light… and that’s worth some thought all by itself, I think. It also shows how blatantly self-serving and nefarious the House Republicans are capable of being at any moment… even on New Years Day night when half of the country was sleeping and the other half sedated.
Several members who talked with TPM said constituents were angry…
“Tons were upset,” Rep. David Brat (R-VA) said of his constituents. “They read the press headlines and thought we were shrugging our duties on ethics.”
I’m sure “tons” of constituents were “upset,” at the very least. After all, a secret ballot cast in the middle of the night on a holiday weekend by the members of only one party alone is the sort of thing I’d expect to hear that “comrades” were involved in, not congressmen.
I’m not even sure how you recover from getting caught trying something like they tried.
- No one in government today should be holding unscheduled, closed doors meetings in order to cast secret ballots over holiday weekends even if the bill to be voted on is universally understood to be positive for all Americans.
- No one in government today should have, as their top priority, the desire to unilaterally abolish an independent, bi-partisan ethics board.
If you want to replace the OCE you don’t sneak around at night behind closed doors, you build a case for why it needs to be changed and you look for support on both sides before making the change. And just to be clear, I’m not saying that the OCE should or shouldn’t be changed. What I’m saying is that if it should be changed, then it sure as heck shouldn’t be handled the way the House Republicans just tried to handle it.
What if you catch me going through your purse?
What if you walked into the room and caught me rifling through your purse? You were shocked, but I quickly explained that it was only because I desperately needed a cough drop or tissue… or perhaps I needed change for the soda machine. Any of those explanations would probably be acceptable, right?
However, what if you found out from someone else that while you were out of the room, I was searching your purse for money or pills, like Vicodin or whatever else people take to get high?
Would you ever leave your purse alone with me in the same room again? Or, if I ever came over to your house to visit, wouldn’t you make sure there wasn’t anything worth stealing in drawers or the bathroom’s medicine cabinet?
Of course you would and it would be difficult or even impossible to ever look at me the same way you had before the purse incident, wouldn’t it? How can you trust someone after you catch him or her with hands in the proverbial cookie jar when no one’s around? I don’t know if it’s even possible… and I don’t think I can.
Swamp: 1. House GOP: 0
The news of what the House Republicans had done related to the OCE dominated the media all day on Tuesday… the first day of the 115th Congress. So, let me just say, very well done there.
House Republicans managed to transform what could have been perhaps the easiest or even best day for congress in over a century, and turn it into something so ugly and humiliating that it’s hard to imagine how they could have done any worse.
Again, this is not a partisan issue. It wasn’t just Democrats that saw what went on as being wrong on so many levels. Plenty of Republicans also understood the stupidity of what they had done, but my favorite statement by far was what Rep. Rod Blum (R–IA), told the Wall Street Journal…
“It’s like a circular firing squad—our first day here and we’re passing around the handgun.”
It’s good to know some of these guys do have senses of humor. If none did… well, that would be even scarier, right?
Look, the OCE was created precisely because, after pay-to-play scandals involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, among others, came to light during the mid-2000s, it was clear that lawmakers could not be trusted to keep tabs on themselves.
For the House Republicans to have done what they did on day one, or rather the night before day one was not just monumentally stupid. It shows a widespread and deeply troubling character flaw shared by too many members of that group.
Not only should they not have wanted to do what they did, but they certainly should’t have wanted to do anything the way they tried to do this.
The very first moment they found themselves alone, they stopped think about US at all… and then got caught reaching into the cookie jar all the way to their collective shoulders, with cookie crumbs covering their creased faces and in their thinning amounts of hair.
As John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton quite famously once said: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Perhaps we should be glad this happened because perhaps we needed to be reminded that no truer words have ever been spoken.
This should also remind Republicans that just because House Democrats are now in the minority, that doesn’t actually mean that they can do whatever they want or that they alone are now running the country.
What happened here proved without any doubt whatsoever that we do still have a vigilant free press and plenty of dedicated journalists committed to reporting the news whenever politicians try to do deceive us or otherwise circumvent our democratic process.
This time the New York Times broke the story, but hundreds of other journalists and media outlets followed with their own front page articles, and literally within only a small handful of hours, the phone calls to congressional offices from constituents were clogging phone lines from coast to coast.
A few hours and the whole thing was over… with the independence of the Office of Congressional Ethics intact. If you’d forgotten who truly runs this country, I hope this reminded you. The power is ours, if we want it, not theirs. It always has been, whether we’ve always realized it or not.
I’m proud of the journalists and publications that worked over a holiday weekend in order to inform the populace. They did it faster and more accurately than I would have thought possible. I’m proud of the people of this country who spoke out clearly, passionately and immediately to their elected officials.
And I’m proud of President-elect Donald Trump for taking a stand in opposition to the House Republicans and for showing the country that he is capable of thinking like US and about US. I’ll continue to pray every day that he continues to surprise me and millions like me.