House Republicans suddenly reversed plans to change the rules of the House Ethics Oversight panel, in a public humiliation to kick off the 115th Congress.
In a hastily arranged meeting on Capitol Hill, the Republican conference scrambled to kill the rules changes proposal before a scheduled vote and after President-elect Donald Trump publicly ridiculed them for their ham-handed timing on the issue.
Other tough ethics organizations, including Judicial Watch, criticized the proposed rule changes.
“The American people will see this latest push to undermine congressional ethics enforcement as shady and corrupt,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. “The full House should seriously consider whether it wants to bear the brunt of public outrage and go through with the rule change this afternoon.”
Democrats and the media piled on as well, ridiculing Republicans for trying to weaken the panel despite many of them campaigning to drain the swamp.
“Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan was vocally opposed to the proposed reforms, according to a senior congressional source, but he ultimately failed to lead Republicans away from the public relations disaster that ensued.
Republicans were split about the proposed changes, according to House sources. Some agreed that there were reforms needed to change the anonymous nature of the ethics accusations and leaks of investigations to the media, others thought that the reforms went too far. Many Republicans ultimately agreed that the timing of the reforms looked bad.
Speaker Ryan tried to defend the reforms in a statement on Tuesday morning, before ultimately calling a meeting to revisit the proposition. The Republican conference unanimously agreed to cancel the changes, according to reports.