Politics

Trump Weaponizes Twitter — Against GOP

The sting and power of his tweets force Republicans to back down on planned ethics committee revamp

President-Elect Donald Trump on Tuesday ripped House Republicans for gutting an independent watchdog that investigates ethics complaints against House members — forcing representatives to backtrack.

Without notice or debate on Monday, the Republican caucus voted to defang the Office of Congressional Ethics. Trump, on Twitter, suggested the move runs counter to his pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington.

“Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! #DTS.”

“With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it … may be, their number one act and priority,” he tweeted. “Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! #DTS.”

Republicans reversed course after calling an emergency caucus meeting Tuesday, according to Fox News.

Peter Flaherty, president of the National Legal and Policy Center, said the fact that so many rank-and-file Republicans had signed on to the change “shows just how much draining of the swamp” is necessary.

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“Beating this back was a great victory for President-Elect Trump and the forces of reform,” he said.

The move had drawn condemnation from ethics advocates across the political spectrum. Flaherty told LifeZette he welcomed Trump’s comments.

“It’s becoming a big deal, and I’m delighted that it has,” he said before the House Republicans reversed course. “I was worried this midnight move would not be noticed … It’s achieved a critical mass, and [House Speaker Paul] Ryan has to do something.”

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Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, who worked with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to create the office in 2008, said in a prepared statement it was “shameful” to destroy “the most significant ethics reform” in Congress.

“This drive-by effort to eliminate the Office of Congressional Ethics, which provides appropriate independence and transparency to the House ethics process, is a poor way for the Republican majority to begin ‘draining the swamp,'” he stated. “The American people will see this latest push to undermine congressional ethics enforcement as shady and corrupt.”

Ryan (R-Wis.), who reportedly opposed the change, had indicated earlier Tuesday that he would not try to take it out of the broader rules package. He said in a statement that many members believed the office needed reform. He added the House would continue to hold members accountable.

“It will still investigate them thoroughly and independently. And the outside board will still decide whether or not evidence exists to warrant a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee,” he said. “With the amendment adopted last night, the bipartisan, evenly divided House Ethics Committee will now have oversight of the complaints office.”

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Flaherty, whose organization spotlighted wrongdoing by outgoing Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), said the ethics investigation would not have taken place without the Office of Congressional Ethics. He rejected the idea that the House Ethics Committee can be trusted to aggressively investigate ethical lapses.

“The House Ethics Committee is perfectly capable of doing nothing,” he said. “It should be renamed the Coverup Committee. It has swept scandal after scandal after scandal under the rug.”

Flaherty said Republicans should go in the opposite direction. “We should be looking for ways to make the OCE bigger and stronger and more independent, not emasculate it,” he said.

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