- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2017

President-elect Donald Trump blasted House Republicans Tuesday for attempting to weaken their own independent ethics watchdog, saying they have a lot of bigger things to focus on.

“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. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!” he said via Twitter.

He followed it with “DTS” — the acronym for “Drain the swamp,” which was his campaign-season promise to overturn the cozy back-scratching relationships that have fed Washington for decades. Analysts say an anti-Washington revolt helped put Mr. Trump in the White House.

His tweet was a response to GOP lawmakers who, in a secret vote Monday, decided to change the chamber’s rules and bring the independent Office of Congressional Ethics under the control of the House Ethics Committee, which is run by the lawmakers themselves.

Under the new rules, the independent ethics office cannot accept any anonymous tips, and the Ethics Committee will have final say on what investigations can proceed and what information is made public.

The change is expected to be voted on by the full House Tuesday.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he wished his colleagues had waited to make the change, but defended it, saying the independent ethics office needed the guidance of members of Congress to work properly.

“These are just reforms to the Ethics Committee,” he said. “Every entity across America, government entity, has somebody to oversee it from an accountability process. We made that the Ethics Committee.”

The independent office “is still its same entity,” he told reporters. “It still has its same principles going forward.”

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who also opposed making the change now, said in a statement that he has instructed the Ethics Committee not to interfere with the independent office, and said the new oversight is designed to make sure the independent office is following its own rules.

“The office is not controlled by the committee, and I expect that oversight authority to be exercised solely to ensure the office is properly following its rules and laws, just as any government entity should,” he said.

But both conservative and liberal watchdog groups blasted the move, and Democrats said it was a poor start for the new Congress.

“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,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”

The ethics office could be the first of a number of areas where Mr. Trump finds more common cause with Democrats than with his own party in Congress, raising the possibility of strange new coalitions emerging from Capitol Hill.

Mr. McCarthy said the GOP conference’s ability to ignore leadership’s concerns didn’t faze him, since Mr. Ryan promised an open process in which members propose changes, debate them and vote.

“I think that’s rather healthy,” he said.

He also insisted there wasn’t much daylight between himself and the president-elect, arguing both men focused on the timing, rather than the substance, of the reforms.

“Well, I read the tweet. Those are the same arguments I made last night in conference,” he said.

Mr. McCarthy said he didn’t get a heads up from Mr. Trump before the mogul spoke out, but he isn’t worried that Mr. Trump will mainly speak to leadership through social media.

He said he communicates with the president-elect “quite often.”

Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this story.

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