House Democrats were joined by President-elect Donald Trump, who skewered the Goodlatte plan in a pair of tweets, the second referencing his campaign rallying cry “drain the swamp.”
The quiet, behind-the-scenes plan to neuter the Office of Congressional Ethics, a watchdog created in the wake of a 2008 lobbying scandal, had been approved in a Monday evening vote.
The amendment would have recast the watchdog as the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, and prevented it from investigating anonymous tips on alleged wrongdoing by members, or referring allegations of criminal wrongdoing to prosecutors without the consent of the House Ethics Committee.
The office, oddly, would also have been barred from having media and public relations staffers.
Goodlatte, also oddly, defended the moves in a press statement by claiming that the intent was to “strengthen due process rights and the mission of the OCE.”
“Gross misrepresentation by opponents of my amendment, and the media willing to go along with this agenda, resulted in a flurry of misconceptions and unfounded claims about the true purpose of this amendment,” said Goodlatte, who was re-elected in November to a 13th term. “To be perfectly clear, the OCE has a serious and important role in the House, and my amendment would have done nothing to impede their work or lessen the high ethical standards to which all Members of Congress should be held.”
“I look forward to passing a House Rules package this afternoon and getting down to the important business the American people elected us to perform.”
Which was sort of the point that, of all people, Trump felt compelled to make.
“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, health care and so many other things of far greater importance!” the president-elect tweeted Tuesday morning.
The tweet underscored the distraction that the closed-door effort to gut the ethics watchdog had created for Republicans, who are set to have control of both houses of Congress and the White House for the first time since 2007.