Yoder voted ‘yes’ on overhaul of ethics office, although getting that answer wasn’t easy

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that getting direct answers to direct questions out of politicians can be difficult, and at times even excruciating.

And that was the case earlier this week when Republicans in the U.S. House found themselves on the receiving end of a public backlash after they voted in a closed-door caucus meeting to back a rules change that would have stripped the Office of Congressional Ethics of its independence.

The backlash, which came not only from the public but also from President-elect Donald Trump, was harsh enough that, less than 24 hours later, the GOP caucus met again and reversed its decision.

Like many news organizations around the country, the Journal-World began calling and emailing the offices of its local delegation with what ought to have been a simple question: How did you vote on that issue? It’s a question that typically lends itself to three possible answers: “I voted yes”; “I voted no”; or “I did not participate in the vote.”

Only two of Kansas’ four House members, all Republicans, even responded to the question, and neither of the two who did respond gave any such clear-cut answer. In particular, 3rd District Rep. Kevin Yoder’s office sent this written statement, attributed to the congressman:

“In order to ‘drain the swamp’ we must
seriously revise the ineffective
ethics laws passed during the Pelosi
Congress. 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.”

In retrospect, it’s a response that can be interpreted a number of ways, depending on how much emphasis the reader places on key words and phrases. Read one way, it can sound like Yoder supported the ideas or concepts behind the proposal, “the reforms,” but that he objected to the way it was presented in a closed-door meeting where there are no recorded votes.

That’s how we first interpreted the response and that’s what we reported online Tuesday, and in print Wednesday. We were wrong, and we were told so the next day. The story has been corrected online, and a print correction has been issued.

And that’s all fair enough, but it leaves open two other questions. First, if Rep. Yoder wanted to convey the message that he voted yes, why didn’t he just say, “I voted yes”? And second, if he thinks handling such an issue behind closed doors is inappropriate, then why did he consent to it and vote yes?

As to the first question, Yoder’s communications director C.J. Grover said simply that Tuesday was a “hectic day” because it was the first day of the new Congress and all 435 members had to be sworn in. And as to the second question, he said:

He supported the reforms in conference
(which has no binding authority and
frankly doesn’t affect any policy, the
votes on the House floor does that)
and would support them if they come
back to the floor for a vote like he
says in the statement. He has always
favored openness and transparency in
Congress and this issue is no
different. Typically these votes
happen at the beginning of each new
congress with no fanfare, but as the
situation developed it became clear
the best way to tackle that particular
portion of the rules package would be
in the committee process. It’s not

It’s worth noting that getting a direct answer out of Rep. Lynn Jenkins’ office was no easier. Their initial response to the question, How did Rep. Jenkins vote, was this:

“There is no question that the Office
of Congressional Ethics needs to be
reformed. 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

Which led to the obvious followup question: OK, but how did she vote? To which, her communications director Michael Byerly wrote: “Today, the amendment was stripped out of the rules package by unanimous consent. I would have to refer you to our quote.”

It was only after the third attempt at a direct answer did Byerly offer the following explanation: “The Congresswoman’s flight got in late for the 115th Organizing Conference to Discuss the Proposed Rules of the House of Representatives.”

That, apparently, was something that couldn’t have been said the first time he was asked.

Still, Yoder and Jenkins deserve some credit because they did actually give responses, such as they were, to legitimate questions from a newspaper in their home state. Such could not be said for the other two House members from Kansas.

Neither Rep. Mike Pompeo of Wichita, who is Trump’s pick to be the next CIA director, nor newly elected Rep. Roger Marshall of Great Bend gave any response.