They came to Washington last week ready to represent the constituents who had given them the honor of serving in Congress. They were 39 freshman Republican House Members.
Harsh reality quickly set in.
Last week, they sat around as a Greek chorus while 20 extremist Republicans forced 15 ballots –
the most since 1859 – before permitting Kevin McCarthy to be elected House Speaker. In the process the extremists drained away much of the Speaker’s powers.
Following this debacle, as a first order of business on Monday, the newbies were presented with the opportunity to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an effective House Office that has been key for more than a decade to House ethics rules being enforced.
Without presenting any case against OCE—because there is none—House Republicans, including the 39 Republican freshmen, acted to cripple the agency for only one apparent reason: to enable House Republicans to take actions, free from any oversight or accountability for breaking House ethics rules.
I am confident in saying that none of those 39 Republican freshmen campaigned on a platform of gutting the Office of Congressional Ethics. But that didn’t stop them from voting to trash the House ethics rules by gutting the House office that is essential to making the House ethics rules work.
As a result, the 39 new Republican House Members quickly earned their place in the House Hall of Shame.
Mr. Smith did not come to Washington with this class of House Republican freshmen.
The most infamous member of this class is Rep. George Santos of New York.
He ran and won as a complete fiction, lying about nearly every aspect of his life. Santos is facing multiple calls for House ethics investigations (
including one from Democracy 21), and federal and local law enforcement bodies are already investigating him.
While the House Ethics Committee will continue to have the power to determine whether ethics rules have been broken and to recommend sanctions, the Ethics Committee had been a burial ground for ethics complaints and investigations prior to the creation of the independent OCE in 2008.
If the OCE concluded the Ethics Committee should pursue an investigation, it put pressure on the Committee to do so. If the Committee failed to act, it knew that OCE’s report to the Committee would become public, putting further pressure on the Committee to take appropriate action.
OCE has done an effective job of preventing the Ethics Committee from deep-sixing ethics problems and has greatly improved ethics oversight and enforcement. And that is why the House Republicans gutted it.
While House Republicans were trashing ethics oversight, they were at the same time creating a “Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.” In reality, they are weaponizing the House to attack the Biden-led executive branch for purely partisan purposes.
Hypocrisy barely serves to describe these two actions. House Republicans want to investigate and ensure so-called “oversight and accountability” for the executive branch while eliminating effective oversight and accountability for themselves.
Furthermore, in true Orwellian fashion, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) will head the subcommittee to investigate the January 6th Committee and Justice Department investigators of the Trump coup attempt.
In 2016, Jordan
led a spectacularly unsuccessful effort to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, one of the nation’s finest public servants. Jordan’s efforts were rejected by an overwhelming bipartisan House vote of 342-to-72. There was no evidence and no basis for impeaching Koskinen. But evidence is not something that matters to Jordan, as we also saw in his effort to deny the presidential election to Biden.
Jordan is about to embark on an irresponsible attack on the federal government in general and the Justice Department and FBI in particular. As an election denier and a serious participant in supporting Trump’s coup attempt, Jordan is riddled with conflicts of interest in leading this effort.
This subcommittee should not exist and Jordan certainly should not be serving on it.
The infamous two-year House Republican
Benghazi investigation into Hillary Clinton ended in 2016 with a whimper, finding no new evidence of culpability or wrongdoing by Clinton.
We can expect that House Republicans will again wildly overreach in their partisan investigations that will end with a similar whimper.
This column first appeared in Wertheimer’s Political Report.