Dems: Indiana lawmaker ‘trying to have it both ways’ on Congressional ethics issue

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – On a day that is typically ceremonial in nature, Congress faced its first controversy of the new year, over the issues of ethics.

As lawmakers converged on Washington to be sworn in for the new year, Republicans in the House passed an amendment behind closed doors to gut an independent ethics panel that acts as a Congressional watchdog, then walked back that decision after facing disapproval from President-elect Donald Trump on Twitter.

The changes would have put the independent Office of Congressional Ethics under the direction of the House ethics committee, which will be chaired in the new year by Indiana congresswoman Susan Brooks (R-IN5).

Early in the day, Indiana Democrats were critical of the changes and of the state’s Republican lawmakers for not publicly discussing the issue:

“On the eve of a new Congress, House Republicans last night voted in secret to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics and any sort of accountability for the next two years. This comes just eight years after Democrats created this new office to hold all Members accountable to the highest standards of ethics. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, the Republican majority wants to avoid any sort of ethics standards moving forward. How did Jackie Walorski, Luke Messer, and the rest of the Indiana Republican Delegation vote on this? We don’t know, and while they continue their silence, they are now opening the doors to the same practices they campaigned against just months ago. We encourage Hoosiers to call their Republican Congressional Delegation offices today and ask how they voted behind closed doors last night. Hoosiers deserve transparency.”

Rep. Brooks also issued a statement early Tuesday, which did not necessarily indicate which way she stood on the changes:

“The Office has an important role to play in restoring confidence in Congress, and it will continue to perform its work in the new Congress as the Office of Congressional Complaint Review. As the incoming Chairwoman of the House Committee on Ethics, I will work in a bipartisan manner with the Office to ensure its independence and to maintain the highest ethical standards of the House. I will not interfere with the bipartisan independent board that governs the Office or prevent it from doing its work.”

But after the President-elect’s tweet criticizing the changes, Republicans met again and withdrew the amendment, prompting another statement from Brooks:

“I applaud the decision to remove the proposed reforms to the Office of Congressional Ethics from the House Rules voted on today. Many of these reforms are worthy of discussion and debate, and as incoming Chairwoman of the House Ethics Committee I am committed to working with my colleagues on the House Ethics Committee to come to a bipartisan agreement on a path forward. Together, we can preserve the independence of the Office of Congressional Ethics, maintain the highest ethical standards of the House, and ensure that the American people are informed.”

On Twitter, the communications director for the Indiana Democrats said Brooks was “trying to have it both ways” on the issue.

Brooks’ spokesperson said that Brooks did not support the amendment in Monday night’s caucus session. House leadership, including Speaker Paul Ryan, were reportedly against the amendment as well.

Brooks discussed her new role as ethics chair in a mid-December interview which aired on last week’s edition of IN Focus.

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