Amid controversial vote, Jenkins and Yoder call for reforming House ethics office
Topeka ? Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins and Rep. Kevin Yoder issued statements Tuesday calling for reform at the Office of Congressional Ethics, although Jenkins herself did not take part in a controversial vote Monday night to strip that office of its independence.
“There is no question that the Office of Congressional Ethics needs to be reformed,” Jenkins said Tuesday. “After eight years, we must ensure that our resources are being used responsibly as we eliminate government corruption in Washington. Though, I believe such reforms should be done in a more transparent and bipartisan fashion. Nevertheless, it is imperative that we hold members of Congress to the highest standard and stop any forms of government corruption.”
Yoder said he also supports overhauling the OCE, and he voted in favor of the rule change that was proposed Monday.
“In order to ‘drain the swamp’ we must seriously revise the ineffective ethics laws passed during the Pelosi Congress,” Yoder said, referring to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who led the effort in 2008 to establish the OCE. “While I supported the reforms offered, I believe that any changes should go through a full and open bipartisan process. Not a closed meeting where votes were not recorded.”
The controversy erupted Monday night, just hours before the 115th Congress convened. In a closed-door session, according to published reports, the House Republican Conference voted 119-74 on a proposed change to the House rules that would have put the independent ethics office under oversight of the House Ethics Committee.
A spokesman for Jenkins said her flight to Washington Monday arrived too late for her to take part in that meeting.
Jenkins represents the 2nd District of Kansas, which includes Lawrence and most of eastern Kansas outside the Kansas City metropolitan area.
Yoder represents the 3rd District, which includes Johnson and Wyandotte counties and part of Miami County.
Offices for Reps. Mike Pompeo, of Wichita, and Roger Marshall, of Great Bend, did not respond to requests for comment about the vote.
The vote Monday sparked immediate controversy, and early Tuesday Republicans met again and voted unanimously to remove the proposed change after President-elect Donald Trump rebuked the idea on Twitter.
“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,” Trump said in a pair of tweets Tuesday morning. “Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of greater importance. #DTS.”
The hashtag at the end refers to a refrain from Trump’s campaign about ridding Washington of corruption: “Drain the Swamp.”
The independent office was established in 2008, when Democrats controlled the House, as an independent body to review complaints of ethics violations involving members, officers and staff of the U.S. House. It was a response to a long string of scandals involving the lobbyist Jack Abramoff and several high-ranking Republicans in the House.
Among other things, the OEC is empowered to receive and review complaints from the public and, if warranted, to refer cases to the House Ethics Committee or to law enforcement. In most cases its findings and reports are required to be made public.
Under the proposed rule change, OEC would not have been allowed to investigate anonymous tips, and it would not have been allowed to refer cases for prosecution without permission from the Ethics Committee.