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House Speaker Paul Ryan and the House GOP ditched a proposal to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics after widespread backlash. (Photo: Cliff Owen/AP)

Public Outrage, Not Trump's Tepid Rebuke, Upends GOP Attack on Ethics Panel

Trump wasn't against gutting the independent congressional watchdog, point out critics, just the "timing" of the move

Jon Queally

Following an overnight public relations disaster that followed a Republican Party vote to eviscerate the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, GOP lawmakers made an abrupt u-turn on Tuesday by withdrawing the reform proposal before a final vote on a package of rules that will guide the new legislative session.

In the wake of the development, many news outlets (ex. here, here, here) reported that it was a two-part tweet sent out by President-elect Donald Trump that may have compelled the Republicans to change course.

But despite the high-profile tweets, it was certainly unclear what role, if any, Trump had on the decision. As The Hill pointed out, even "before Trump weighed in, a barrage of negative headlines and public outcry made it difficult for Republicans to stand by the measure."

And filmmaker Michael Moore—who earlier in the day had posted a message on Facebook urging consituents to call and admonish their Republican representatives for moving to gut the ethics watchdog—was among those celebrating the idea that it was public pressure, not Trump's social media foray, which had upended the Republicans:

Moore also critized outlets for so quickly giving Trump credit for Tuesday's turnaround:

Simon Maloy, writing for Salon, agreed with the essentials of Moore's argument.

"Trump’s position on this was clear," Maloy wrote on Tuesday. "He didn’t have a problem with Republicans going after the 'unfair' OCE, he just mildly suggested that maybe it shouldn’t have been the first thing on the agenda.... But once this Twitter statement was sent, the political media tripped all over themselves to be the first to inaccurately report that Trump and the House GOP were at odds over ethics."

As Moore tweeted:

Meanwhile, the Huffington Post's Ryan Grim said the whole situation was revealing in important ways.

"The about-face is significant because it is a strong signal, if one were needed, that public opinion still matters," Grim observed in his reporting. "Despite losing the popular vote for the White House and getting fewer overall votes for Senate seats than Democratic candidates, Republicans are on the verge of controlling all three branches of government, and have telegraphed their intention to ram through the most aggressive agenda possible. Tuesday’s faceplant suggests less may be possible than Republicans think."

Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division, also credited the role of public pressure. "Public outrage over House Republican’s appalling, secretive midnight actions to embolden corruption and congressional profiteering in the coming congress has forced the House GOP to reverse course," Gilbert said in a statement.

But both Gilbert and Daniel Schuman, policy director of grassroots activist organization Demand Progress, said that while this should be seen as a small yet significant victory against Republican overreach, it is still likely just a taste of what's to come.

"This is not the last bad idea to be offered this Congress. The American people will not stand for business as usual. We will be watching," Schuman said.

And Gilbert added that while "it’s great that public pressure forced this reversal, the readiness of the House Caucus to pursue this action is a profoundly troubling signal of what we should expect in the years to come."

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