House GOP gets a lesson in the power of Trump's tweets

  • 3 January 2017
  • NormanL
House GOP gets a lesson in the power of Trump's tweets

Republicans have a knack for some things. One of them is generating controversy where none previously existed. A recent case in point: the House of Representatives seeking, via a rule change, to tweak the independent ethics office that oversees lawmaker activities. As soon as the change was made public, it generated an outcry -- including from Donald Trump.

The result? The House has dropped the idea, and sent it to committee for more study:

After a storm of criticism, including from President-elect Donald Trump, House Republicans have reversed themselves and restored the current rules of the Office of Congressional Ethics.

GOP members met Tuesday afternoon and agreed by unanimous consent to withdraw a change to House rules approved late Monday evening, before the new Congress was sworn in, that would have weakened the ethics office, an independent watchdog first established in 2008 under House Democrats.

According to lawmakers in the room, GOP leaders said the change was a distraction from their agenda and that the issue needed further vetting.

Public outcry, opposition from ethics watchdog groups, a divided GOP, and two tweets from Trump critical of the rules change prompted a swift reversal of the proposal authored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

Trump questioned, via Tweet, Congress' priorities. He tweeted a pair of posts saying that while the OCE was "unfair," Congress had more important issues to take up, including tax reform and health care.

Inclusion of the ethics measure threatened to bring down the entire rules package — the governing rules of the chamber — that is headed for a vote later Tuesday. The majority party traditionally passes the rules package on their votes alone, and a defeat would have been an embarrassing start for Republicans in the new Congress.

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, but Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who played a critical role in establishing the OCE, has fought back any efforts to reduce its role.

There may have been perfectly acceptable policy reasons for the proposed changes. But the issue gave Democrats a perfect club with which to beat Republicans -- exactly the the sort of thing they do not need, and absolutely cannot afford, as they tackle issues of far greater importance to the country.

Put simply, it was rotten politics.

President-elect Trump saw it the same way. That he was able to get the House GOP to change course through his use of Twitter is a sign of things to come.