In one of their first acts in the majority, House Republicans on Monday approved a rules package that will dramatically hinder the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent body tasked with investigating complaints about sitting lawmakers.
The change came as a number of House Republicans—including newly elected Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) — are facing growing scrutiny for alleged ethics violations that range from potentially running afoul of campaign finance laws to defying congressional subpoenas issued as part of the January 6 investigation.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) opposed the establishment of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) in 2008, and Republicans have repeatedly targeted the body in the years since its creation.
“It speaks volumes that House Republicans’ first order of business after electing Kevin McCarthy as speaker is to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, making it easier for House members — including those complicit in the conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election — to evade responsibility for misconduct,” said Sean Eldridge, the founder and president of Stand Up America.
“This kind of self-serving behavior is why many Americans have lost faith in politics,” Eldridge added. “McCarthy and his fellow MAGA Republicans have sent a clear message about their priorities and who is actually in charge in the new House: corrupt politicians.”
The changes enacted by the House GOP on Monday impose an eight-year term limit on the eight members of the OCE, a change that will force out three of the four Democrats currently sitting on the board.
The new rules will also require OCE to hire all of its staff for the 118th Congress within a period of 30 days, a restriction that outside ethics watchdogs say “essentially limits any hiring for the office, including investigative staffers, to an impossibly brief period that would make it extremely difficult to rigorously assess candidates for these high-stakes jobs.”
“Additionally,” notes the Campaign Legal Center, “the 30-day hiring period applies to the entire 118th Congress, meaning that regardless of when a vacancy at the OCE occurs under this rule, the position cannot be filled.”
Any new hires would require the approval of at least four OCE board members.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) warned the changes enacted by House Republicans late Monday are “a disaster for everyone except corrupt politicians.”
Kyle Herrig, president of the watchdog group Accountable.US, said in a statement that “this is about protecting their ethically-challenged members like fraudster George Santos or January 6 subpoena-defying Jim Jordan from accountability — or perhaps in anticipation of a new wave of corruption allegations and ethics violations from other MAGA extremists.”
“It’s telling that the very first action of the incoming MAGA Republican-led House was to kneecap a bipartisan office that oversees congressional ethics,” said Herrig. “There’s no good reason to make it easier for members to get away with ethics violations, which only invites problematic behavior. It sends a clear message that the MAGA House is more interested in sweeping any corruption amongst their ranks under the rug and performing political stunts against the Biden administration than they are doing anything constructive.”
Santos, who has admitted to lying about numerous aspects of his background and is facing campaign finance complaints, celebrated the OCE changes as “fantastic” and called them “a good thing for transparency.”
The Guardian noted Monday that “as House Republicans moved to shield themselves from potential ethics investigations, they expanded their own investigative ability through the adoption of the rules package that allows for the creation of the special subcommittee to probe the Justice Department and intelligence agencies.”
“The text of the resolution creating the subcommittee — scheduled for a vote on Tuesday — on ‘the weaponization of the federal government’ authorizes it to investigate any part of the federal government, including ‘ongoing criminal investigations,’ which Republicans have indicated could extend to probes against Trump,” the newspaper reported.