You know it's going to be a weird year when one of the first reasonable voices of 2017 is none other than Tweeter-in-Chief Donald Trump.
It was pretty astounding to learn on Monday, after over a year of "Crooked Hillary" catcalling and reiterations to #DrainTheSwamp, that the House of Representatives' first order of business in their new session was to ostensibly kill off the independence of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). In a closed-door meeting, the GOP majority voted 119-74 to bring the OCE under the control of the House Ethics Committee. While that might not sound too bad on the surface, it was a blatant attempt by the GOP to make it harder for whistleblowers to call out representatives on any number of corrupt or unethical behaviors.
It was so blatant that even Trump tweeted that, while the OCE was "unfair," the weakening of the office shouldn't be the House's "number one act and priority." Moreover, he added that they should be focusing on "many other things of far greater importance!" The exclamation point at the end was his.
Just as we were going to press, the faction of the GOP that proposed the package, led by the rather caffeinatedly-named Virginia Rep. Robert Goodlatte, backed down after mounting pressure from Trump and the House leadership. The OCE is safe, that is, until Republican lawmakers decide to bring it up again.
So why should San Diegans care? Well, for one, it's important to remember one of the main reasons the OCE was created in the first place. You see, back in 2008 then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, citing a "culture of corruption," led a bi-partisan effort to create an independent committee to investigate potential ethics violations. While Pelosi never called him out by name, one of the members of this "culture of corruption" was disgraced S.D. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham who, after 15 years in Congress, resigned in 2005 after it was revealed that he accepted $2.4 million in bribes.
But it wasn't the House Ethics Committee that found all this out about Cunningham. In fact, they ignored it. It was reporters at the Union-Tribune and the Wall Street Journal who broke the story. So while Cunningham had nothing directly to do with the creation of the OCE, his massive corruption—one that The Washington Post called "the most brazen bribery conspiracy in modern congressional history"—almost certainly inspired members of both parties to believe that there needed to be some kind of independent entity to look into these matters. Simply relying on politicians to police themselves was no longer an option.
And it still isn't. Cunningham's successor (after redistricting bounced Brian Bilbray) is none other than Duncan Hunter Jr., who is now under an ethical microscope for his misuse of campaign funds for things like a trip to Hawaii and video games ($1300 worth). And who ended up investigating this complaint? None other than the OCE. It's unclear what the House Committee on Ethics plans to do in light of the investigation's findings, but they recently acknowledged they'd address it in the new Congress.
And since the OCE vote was in a closed-door session, we have no idea how San Diego's other Republican representative, Darrell Issa, voted when it came to the amendment. We know he was in Washington and we know he's had his own problems with the OCE in the past. But Issa may just have been busy quietly reintroducing his own legislation, H.R. 21 or the Midnight Rules Relief Act, which would allow Congress to overturn, with a single vote, any "executive branch regulations finalized in the last 60 legislative days of an outgoing Presidential administration." Translation: Congress would be allowed to overturn nearly any recent action by President Obama simply by voting along party lines. Issa originally introduced this bill in September, and while it passed in the House, it stalled in the Senate. He's hoping new members of Congress might be more amenable.
The Midnight Rules Relief Act may as well be called the Don't Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out Act. It's the legislative equivalent of adding insult to eight years worth of injuries. While it's certainly not illegal, it's certainly unprofessional and, dare we say it, unethical. Good thing we still have people to look into that... for now.