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House GOP votes to strip ethics office of independent status

WASHINGTON — House Republicans abruptly voted Monday night effectively to weaken the independent Office of Congressional Ethics that investigates lawmakers’ alleged misconduct.

Behind closed doors, the caucus voted to approve an amendment to a broader House rules package that would put the office under the House Ethics Committee and significantly restrict its authority. The House will vote Tuesday on the rules package as the 115th Congress begins.

The approval of the amendment, proposed by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), comes amid promises from GOP President-elect Donald Trump to “drain the swamp.” Trump also has proposed several steps aimed at limiting corruption in Washington, including term limits on lawmakers and restrictions on lobbyists.

“Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said.

The vote prompted protests from government watchdog groups, including those who had pushed for creation of the OCE in 2008. Those groups had said at the time that the Ethics Committee wasn’t diligent enough in policing and punishing member wrongdoing on its own. But the office has its detractors, including lawmakers and staffers on both sides of the aisle who said they were treated unfairly.

Some House Republicans, including Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, argued against the amendment, said a lawmaker who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Other changes would include requiring that any matter potentially involving a violation of criminal law be referred to the Ethics Committee. The OCE also would be barred from considering anonymous complaints, and its jurisdiction would be limited to the last three Congresses.

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