You could almost hear them muttering: “America ain’t ready for reform.”
It was late on Monday and House Republicans were huddled behind closed doors, busily gutting safeguards against unethical behavior. You might have thought you were at a meeting of the Chicago City Council.
By Tuesday morning, the House had backed off from its shameful work of night before. But not before we had picked up that whiff of Old Chicago, which actually is not so old. The scheming House Republicans sounded exactly like the many current Chicago aldermen who fought for years against oversight by independent investigators.
The short-lived new House rules, for example, would have banned investigators from following down anonymous tips about corrupt behavior, effectively killing whistleblowing by anyone who fears retribution or losing their job. That idea could have come straight from the Council, which successfully fought for years to keep anonymous tipsters at bay.
The House rules also would have rescinded the ethics office’s independence, placing it under the direct control of the lawmakers. Sound familiar? For decades in Chicago, the Council required that the city Board of Ethics approve all investigations and notify the target of an investigation in advance.
Defenders of the changes in Washington, again sounding like aldermen with something to hide, insisted they need protection from unfair probes. Donald Trump senior aide Kellyanne Conway explained that the intent simply was to put a damper on “overzealousness.”
Raise your hand if you think Congress is held to excessively high ethical standards.
One of those who spoke in favor of the congressional ethics rollback, according to Politico, was Illinois’ own U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, who apparently still is pouting because the Office of Congressional Ethics looked into a trip that he and his wife took in 2011 to Taiwan. There were legitimate questions about who picked up the tab. The House Ethics Committee decided to let the matter drop, but at least the public was made aware of the issue. Under the new rules, the allegations would have been kept secret.
Fortunately, the House Republicans were shamed into backing off their anti-reforms. Even Trump objected, saying the timing looked bad. Torpedoing ethics at the start of a new Congress, with Republicans soon to control both houses and the presidency, amounted to terrible symbolism.