*** UPDATE TO THIS POST: Some great news: Your calls and emails worked! House GOP members reversed course on dismantling the OCE.
The new session of Congress starts today and there’s already a troubling development. In conference last night, Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) proposed an amendment to the House rules package which would basically dismantle the Office of Congressional Ethics. It would take away the spokesperson for the office as well as prohibit the investigation of anonymous complaints. The proposal also appears to say the office (which would be renamed) would not be able to report criminal activity to police without first running it by the House Ethics Committee.
The OCE (not to be confused with OGE–the Office of Government Ethics in the Executive branch) is an independent ethics watchdog for the House established following the Foley and Abramoff scandals. Despite warnings from Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McCarthy, Republicans voted 119-74 in favor of the measure by secret ballot. House members reportedly were swayed by pleas from other members who felt they were falsely accused without due process. However, it’s hard to see how limiting investigative power, reporting and transparency improves due process. If anything, these changes halt the process.
Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress has a more in-depth explanation in his post on Medium. Politico also did a quick explainer as well. The vote of the full House on these rules is expected to happen around noon eastern today–so there is time to contact your Representative. However, it seems most people expect the package to pass.
Some of what’s coming up in Washington:
Today, January 3, the opening of the 115th Congress. C-SPAN will be broadcasting if you want to check it out.
January 4: President Obama is expected to make a visit to Capitol Hill to meet with Democrats. This likely will be his last meeting on the Hill before the inauguration.
January 5: Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), who leads the Senate Armed Services Committee, has called a for an urgent hearing on cyber threats to the United States. Of note: Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) also sits on this committee as well as Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia).
The hearing starts at 9:30 Eastern and the people scheduled to testify are James Clapper (Director of National Intelligence), Marcell J. Lettre II (Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence), Admiral Michael S. Rogers, USN (Commander, United States Cyber Command/Director, National Security Agency/Chief, Central Securities Services). This likely will be broadcast on C-SPAN and be covered extensively by press.
January 10-11: The Senate Judiciary Committee holds hearings for the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) for Attorney General. If you’re curious, here are the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Senator Sessions is a member of this committee.)
If you need a quick “school house rocks” on the stages of this process, here’s a piece from ABC news about the process.
In a press release in December, Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) said that Chairman Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) aimed to schedule hearings on Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson sometime the second week of January. Tillerson has turned in his questionnaire from the committee, but due to his extensive foreign ties, Cardin has also requested three years of tax returns. There seems to be some debate about whether this is necessary.
Speaking of tax returns, we’re now just 17 days from the inauguration and we still don’t know anything about how Donald Trump plans to avoid conflicts of interest in his administration. We still haven’t seen his tax returns. He still hasn’t divested his business. There are still diplomats staying in his D.C. hotel . There are still properties around the globe with his name on them. His children are still involved in his business. This should be a nonpartisan issue and it is deeply concerning to me that it has not yet been resolved. I hope to post more about this and legislation that is moving at the state and federal level tomorrow—but I was waiting to see if Mr. Trump might propose how he will address those issues today.
Something that could get interesting in the coming days (at least from the perspective of someone who has worked for better government transparency) is prospective Trump cabinet members turning in financial disclosure forms. We’ll know a lot more about their conflicts of interest in the coming weeks.
Finally, as we go forward, just a “Midwest nice” thought to share: Along with making your voice heard to your representative on issues you want them to take action on, I think it’s also nice to send thank you notes when someone stands up for a cause you believe in—especially when it is someone you don’t normally agree with politically. When I worked in the TV industry I got all kinds of angry “I hate this story” emails. It was encouraging to get a piece of mail or a tweet saying “Thanks for your work.” Just my two cents on how we might be able to be the change we wish to see in this world. It’s something I plan on doing for a few courageous lawmakers who have been fighting for issues I believe in.