A spokesperson for U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, who represents Northeast Texas in Congress, said on Wednesday that he voted against proposed changes to the Office of Congressional Ethics in the secret House Republican Conference vote on Monday.
Late that evening, U.S. Rep. John Goodlatte (Va.) announced that members of the House Republican Conference had voted to significantly weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent federal body separate from the House Ethics Committee, which is composed of active members of the House of Representatives . The OCE was created in 2008 following a number of high-profile financial scandals involving legislators from both major political parties.
The vote among GOP lawmakers came on the eve of the beginning of the 2017 Congressional session. But word of the move resulted in significant backlash, including objections from other Republicans as well as watchdog organizations.
Judicial Watch, a conservative group that has led efforts to release former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails, called the House rules change "shady and corrupt" and a "drive by effort" to eliminate the OCE, as well as "a poor way for the Republican majority to begin 'draining the swamp.' "
President-elect Donald Trump, as is his practice, used Twitter to present his concerns about the move. Trump posted that while he thought the OCE was "unfair," Congress should begin this year’s session with a focus on domestic policy rather than internal governmental matters.
Presumably in response to the pushback, Republicans met just before the House swearing-in ceremony and agreed to withdraw the provision weakening OCE.
Ratcliffe’s office said on late Wednesday afternoon that the congressman opposed the provisions that would have weakened the OCE and voted against the measure on Monday.
Many Texas Republican lawmakers are remaining silent on how they voted Monday, though some are not.
U.S. Rep. Bill Flores of Bryan supported the proposed changes and described the OCE as “a creation of Nancy Pelosi” that “wasn't structured correctly.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess of Lewisville issued a statement saying that he opposed the changes. U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry of Clarendon said on Twitter that “(the) OCE is in need of reform, but that was not the proper way to go about it. He voted against.”
House Ethics Chairwoman Susan Brooks, R-Ind., said that the ethics panel will review the proposal and come back to the conference with any recommendations by late summer or early fall. Republicans said they would like to have Democratic buy-in to any proposed changes to the OCE. Several Democrats in recent years have also voiced criticism of the OCE.