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House GOP drops change to ethics office after Trump criticism

President-elect Donald Trump went on Twitter to criticize

President-elect Donald Trump went on Twitter to criticize House Republicans Tuesday for making one of their first acts a vote to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, arguing that tax reform and health care should be higher priorities. Credit: Twitter / Donald Trump

Two hours after President-elect Donald Trump criticized House Republicans for approving a plan aimed at gutting a congressional ethics panel, GOP lawmakers withdrew the measure that had been widely condemned by government watchdog groups and Democratic leaders.

Trump took to Twitter Tuesday morning to chide House Republicans for starting off the year voting on a measure late Monday night that he said would weaken the congressional ethics panel tasked with investigating allegations of corruption and conflicts of interest.

“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, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!” Trump wrote at 10:03 a.m.

The post came as the 115th Congress was set to be sworn in Tuesday.

At noon, House GOP leaders convened an emergency meeting and voted unanimously to drop their initial plan to place the independent Office of Congressional Ethics under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee. They agreed to revisit the issue in August upon the completion of a study on the panel’s work.

The plan, approved by House Republicans Monday in a 119-74 vote, would’ve stripped the panel of its autonomy, requiring it to report to the lawmakers it is tasked with investigating. The proposed measure also barred the office from investigating anonymous tips about lawmakers.

Government watchdog groups spoke out against the plan, saying it would curtail the office’s ability to uncover ethical violations, while House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) defended the measure, saying Republican House members who voted for the plan believed the ethics panel was in “need of reform to protect due process and ensure it is operating according to its stated mission.”

“I want to make clear that this House will hold its members to the highest ethical standards and the Office will continue to operate independently to provide public accountability to Congress,” Ryan said in a statement issued after Trump’s tweets.

The panel was created by Democrats in 2008, after prominent GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribe public officials following a federal investigation that led to the conviction of 21 others, including a former congressman, lobbyists, and several congressional aides.

Asked to clarify Trump’s position on the initial House GOP measure, transition spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters: “It’s not a question of strengthening or weakening, it’s a question of priorities,” adding that Trump believed lawmakers’ “focus should be on tax reform and health care.”

Earlier in the day, Vice President-Elect Mike Pence told reporters outside of Trump Tower that he and Trump plan on meeting with senior intelligence officials once they have completed a review ordered by President Barack Obama on Russia’s alleged role influencing the presidential election through a series of cyberattacks.

Pence did not indicate when or where the meeting would be held, but late Tuesday night, Trump tweeted: “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”

Asked by reporters if the incoming Trump administration had lost confidence in the U.S. intelligence community given Trump’s rejection of the Russian hacking claims, Pence said the country was entering “a new season” in national security and foreign relations.

“The challenges that America faces on the world stage are going to be met with renewed American strength and renewed American leadership — rebuilding our military, engaging our leaders around the world as the president-elect has done on a personal basis,” Pence said.

Also Tuesday:

  • Trump announced on Twitter he will hold a news conference in New York City on Jan. 11 after postponing a similar event last month where he was slated to layout his plans to separate his private business interests from his new public role.
  • The president-elect also tweeted “there should be no further releases” of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, adding that “these are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the Obama Administration will continue with its plans to transfer some of the prisoners from the naval base as part of an ongoing effort to clear the controversial prison where suspected terrorists have long been held.
  • Trump nominated Robert Lighthizer, who served in President Ronald Reagan’s administration, to be U.S. trade representative. The role will require Lighthizer to create and implement policies that “shrink our trade deficit, expand economic growth, strengthen our manufacturing base and help stop the exodus of jobs from our shore,” according to the transition team.

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