Renegade Republicans, including two from Miami, sought to weaken ethics police in Congress

The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) became better known to the American public this week when a group of House Republicans, which included two members from the Miami area, behind closed doors and unbeknownst to most, attempted to gut the OCE on Monday night before the start of the new congress. Their plan backfired and members had to backtrack.

When the news broke, president-elect Donald Trump tweeted his distaste for the Republican subterfuge. Many Democrats and even Republicans reacted negatively to the move to weaken the non-partisan, independent body. As described by the OCE website: “The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) of the U.S. House of Representatives is an independent, non-partisan entity charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against Members, officers, and staff of the U.S. House of Representatives and, when appropriate, referring matters to the House Committee on Ethics.”

It’s a sign of things to come, I believe. This uppity group of Republicans saw an opportunity to create conditions under a new president (who has shown himself to be ethically challenged in the past) whereby they could start to place themselves above the law by overseeing themselves. The rebuke, I also believe, was not so much because Trump and other Republican leaders were against the move. It was just not the right time to do it.

At the start of a new Congress and a soon to be brand new presidency totally controlled by Republicans, it showed them to be what they are right off the bat, gluttons — no amount of power is enough for them.

Trump’s tweets (my italics) after the fact may prove my point: “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! #DTS.” In other words, Trump intimates, leave that for later…

The Miami Herald reacted in an editorial that stressed that in this case the president-elect and other members of Congress against this move “got it right.”

I congratulate the Herald for agreeing that there is need for an independent and non-partisan watchdog group to keep an eye on Congress. Yet, I found their editorial and the fact that they buried their story on the two south Florida members of congress, who supported the move, suspicious; interesting at best.

The fact is that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo were part of this congressional coup of sorts. Curbelo, I am sure, saw an opportunity in weakening the OCE. He has skirted ethics laws in the past. He has refused, for example, to reveal who his clients are and were (and whether there were any conflicts, especially when he served as a School Board member) in a lobbying group he quickly pushed off on his wife when the issue became a problem when he ran against Joe Garcia. Ros-Lehtinen has been a member of Congress since 1989. She’s closing in on 30 years. I wonder what made her do it…

The Herald, in their editorial, gives cover to Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo stating that “the OCE is independent and aggressive — overaggressive, says a bipartisan group of critics in Congress. Though it does not have subpoena power, it has a staff of investigators and is overseen by an outside board of six members, former politicians, public servants and a retired general. And the office has faced accusations of targeting minority congressional members. True, an internal overhaul of its workings may be in order. Two congressional Republican members from Miami, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, were among those supporting the House measure. In a statement to the Miami Herald, Ros-Lehtinen said there was ‘much-needed oversight and accountability.’”

In other words, says Ros-Lehtinen, the one who needs to be kept on the straight and narrow is the OCE, and NOT the members of Congress.

Even the Herald reacted to the Ros-Lehtinen statement by writing: “But a complete gutting is underhanded overkill.”

At the beginning of this column I mention that this action by empowered members of Congress looks to me like a big billboard of what lays ahead in the halls of power. What both Republicans and Democrats still don’t understand, though, is that the voting public — whether they were bigots, fascists, or whatever you’d like to call them — seek accountability in their political leaders.

And what’s the first thing members of congress try to do? Attempt to undo part of the process that leads to that accountability.

As for our two south Florida members who find themselves with their tails between their legs these days… They saw an opportunity to clear a path for themselves — just in case. And they jumped…

And it took Donald Trump, of all people, to scold them.

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