Three U.S. representatives from Southern Illinois on Tuesday offered differing statements on their votes during a closed-door meeting Monday to remove the independence of an ethics committee — one day before House Republicans abruptly reversed course and abandoned the changes.
U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, said through a spokesman that he voted against the changes, which were part of a rules package for the next Congress, and that he was “pleased” Republicans did not pursue them Tuesday.
“Reforms like these should be transparent, negotiated with a hand open to the other side of the aisle and, whenever possible, confined to the regular order of the committee process,” Bost wrote in a statement after Republicans reversed course. “Our constituents need to know that the People’s House is acting in the best interests of the people, and that accountability measures remain in place when members fall short of that standard.”
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, declined to comment on how he voted.
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And a spokesperson for U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, would not say how he voted on Monday, but in a statement released by the representative’s office, Shimkus was critical of the committee.
“Nearly a decade since its creation,” Shimkus wrote, “complaints received and investigated by the Office of Congressional Ethics have resulted in no major disciplinary actions while costing taxpayers over $10 million.
“Reforming the office is necessary to ensure that its future investigations of representatives and staff are handled in a manner consistent with Constitutional due process rights, and in a way that protects the confidentiality of witnesses as well as those who are wrongly accused,” Shimkus also wrote.
House Republicans voted Monday to change an independent ethics board by bringing it under control of the House Ethics Committee, which they control. The vote was held in secret.
A day later, they reversed themselves and abandoned the move to strip the ethics committee of its independence.
According to the Office of Congressional Ethics’ website, the committee “is not authorized to determine if a(n ethics) violation occurred. The OCE is also not authorized to sanction Members, officers, or employees of the House or to recommend any sanctions. The OCE is not able to provide advice or education on the rules and standards of conduct applicable to Members, officers, and employees of the House.”
The office is an independent and non-partisan review board. All eight members of its board are private citizens and can’t work for the federal government.
After it “reviews allegations of misconduct ... when appropriate, (it) refers investigations to the House Ethics Committee for further review,” the office’s website says.
The Office of Congressional Ethics was founded in 2008 in response to the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal, and it was meant, in part, to investigate issues that the House Ethics Committee wouldn’t actively pursue, according to the Washington Post.
“The OCE reviews allegations of misconduct against Members, officers, and staff of the House and, when appropriate, refers matters to the House Committee on Ethics,” according to the committee’s website.
Changes to the committee were part of a vote on the House rules for the next Congress, and the House Republicans’ reversal came quickly Tuesday morning, after they found themselves criticized by Democrats and President-elect Donald Trump.
“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,” Trump asked over Twitter on Tuesday morning.