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House GOP walks back ethics office vote after Trump criticism

January 3, 2017 (Photo Credit: Jae C. Hong/AP)
After facing a swift critique from the president-elect, House GOP members are dropping an amendment that would have stripped a nonpartisan ethics office of its power.

A day after Republicans sought to move the Office of Congressional Ethics under the purview of the House Ethics Committee, Donald Trump questioned the immediacy of the move.

In a pair of Jan. 3 tweets, Trump said that Congress should focus on issues like tax reform and health care before removing funding from an independent ethics office, though he called the body unfair.

House Republicans had held a closed-door vote on Jan. 2 where members voted 119-74 to move the OCE under the House Ethics Committee in an amendment to a new House rules package.

It was expected that the move would formally be adopted on Jan. 3, rebranding the body as the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, but House Republicans dropped the measure after facing critique for the amendment.

But that doesn't mean the OCE will remain unchanged. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., told Bloomberg that House leadership promised a bipartisan reform package by August.

"I think people just did not want this story on opening day," he said.

The OCE was established in March 2008 in response to the Jack Abramoff scandal and reviewed allegations of misconduct by House members and their staff.

The nonpartisan, seven-member board reviewed misconduct allegations in a number of investigations before referring them to the House Committee on Ethics.

The OCE played prominent roles in the ethics investigations of Reps. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y.; Maxine Waters, D-Calif.; and former Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga.

Trump’s criticism follows that of House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., whom The Washington Post reported spoke out against the amendment.

In addition to its board — which is composed of non-federal employee, bipartisan members — the OCE employees a staff of eight investigators and counsel.
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