House Republicans are planning to overhaul a number of rules as they take over the majority in the chamber, seeking to replace them with new guidelines that government watchdogs are warning are a blatant effort to avoid accountability for the January 6 Capitol attack and a show of the GOP’s willingness to change the rules to benefit the party.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California), the Republican leader who is currently embroiled in a contentious fight over his nomination to be House speaker, has proposed new rules that will allow the party to gut the ethics commission that oversees House members, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).
The proposed rule changes come as the office considers whether or not to start an investigation into Republican representatives and open them up for disciplinary action for their roles in the attack on the Capitol and their behavior during subsequent inquiries. These inquiries were opened by the January 6 committee, which recommended in its final hearing that lawmakers who avoided the committee’s subpoenas, including McCarthy himself, be investigated.
McCarthy has suggested imposing term limits on the OCE, which would eliminate every Democrat on the office’s board except for one. He has also proposed requiring the office to make all of its hires within 30 days of a new Congress — hires that it can’t make without a full board — which could hamstring the agency and leave it understaffed for years.
Ethics watchdogs have spoken out against the proposed rule change, saying that Republicans are trying to skirt ethics rules and establish impunity for themselves and party leaders.
“At first glance, it comes across as neutral, but it seems clear it hamstrings OCE,” Aaron Scherb, senior director of legislative affairs for Common Cause, told Roll Call. “Without a full slate, then they can’t really take actions. Another provision says they have to make hiring decisions within the first 30 days, but they can’t do that without a full slate of board members.”
“The [House GOP] plans to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, a transparent and brazen plot to let their members evade accountability for defrauding Americans, refusing to cooperate with the [January 6] investigation, and who knows what else to come,” wrote Accountable.US on Twitter.
The new package also proposes a set of rules that appear to have been specifically crafted to obscure the large cache of documents gathered by the January 6 committee on the attack. Like other documents from hearings and investigations done by Congress, the records are set to be handled and maintained by the nonpartisan National Archives.
But the GOP is seeking to make it so that the documents will instead be under the purview of the House Administration Committee — which the GOP is slated to take control of with its new majority — and would order the National Archives to hand the records over to the committee by mid-January.
The GOP has not specified a reason for the change. But their motivations seem clear: to give politicians control over documents regarding an attack that their own party has been implicated in, in order to obscure the evidence and potentially erase the records from federal archives.
The National Archives and its employees have come under threat from the GOP after former President Donald Trump improperly took classified government documents to his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida, forcing the agency to refer Trump to the FBI to retrieve the documents. Since then, the agency has been increasingly politicized by the right, which appears to be set on politicizing every component of the government in order to seize total power and achieve utter impunity.