The Republican caucus of the U.S. House made a tone-deaf mistake in attempting to roll back ethics investigations, with members of the state’s GOP delegation playing along.
TONE-DEAF U.S. House Republicans actually managed, in comparison, to make Donald Trump — the president-elect with unprecedented conflicts of interest and secret tax returns — come across as the true north of ethics in Washington, D.C. That’s quite a feat.
A majority of the Republican caucus embraced a closed-door effort to neuter their internal ethics watchdog on Monday, the day before the new Congress was sworn in. They retreated quickly after thousands of calls poured into their offices and Trump tweeted skepticism that an ethics rollback should be lawmakers’ out-of-the-gate top priority.
That is an awful start for a Congress that needs to be an ethical backstop for Trump, who hasn’t yet disentangled himself from his sprawling business empire and his Cabinet stocked with industry insiders.
Among Washington state’s four GOP representatives, a spokesperson for Rep. Dave Reichert of Auburn said he voted for a rule change that removed independence from the House’s ethics investigators, of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).
Reichert should win a fictional Winston Smith award — named for the protagonist in George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” — for claiming “in no way did it relax ethics standards or strip the OCE of its authority.”
The office of Rep. Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside said Newhouse missed the vote, but would have voted in favor of the measure. Newhouse’s spokesman said the congressman would have voted to “insert more oversight and due process in this very important function of government.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane is the state’s most powerful Republican, chairing the House Republican caucus. In that role, she couldn’t vote for the rule change. Her spokeswoman said McMorris Rodgers “had serious concerns” about making the changes without public hearing and bipartisan input. But she oversaw a caucus that made a huge miscalculation on Monday, and she did not publicly denounce the changes before Trump’s tweet, as Speaker Paul Ryan did.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Camas is the only member of the delegation to nail this issue. Her spokeswoman said Herrera Beutler voted no because “it sends entirely the wrong message if the first thing that new leadership does is to remove its own independent ethics watchdog.”
Left-leaning Puget Sound doesn’t like it, but Republicans run the show in Washington, D.C. Our GOP delegation needs to carry the clean-government ethos of state to the other Washington. With the exception of Herrera Beutler, they failed in the opening act of the 115th Congress.
Information in this editorial, originally published Jan. 5, 2017, was corrected on Jan. 6, 2017. A previous version incorrectly stated that U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside voted for the changes to the Office of Congressional Ethics. Newhouse, however, missed the vote, according to a spokesman, who said Newhouse would have voted for the measure.