Texarkana, TX 94° View Live Radar Wed H 86° L 67° Thu H 86° L 66° Fri H 85° L 68° Weather Sponsored By:

The day House Republicans met their worst enemy

The day House Republicans met their worst enemy

January 9th, 2017 by Martin Schram in Opinion Columns

We are reporting today on the muck of the Great Swamp—Washington's perceived corruption, which Donald Trump famously promised cheering crowds he'd drain starting on day one of his presidency.

On Monday, a majority of House Republicans ran-amok and seemed to be seeking to preserve the muck, not drain the Swamp. And so it was that they mangled their president-elect's message and, of course, their own. It was a most mind-boggling public display of how their once-Grand Old Party chose to spotlight itself just weeks before taking absolute control of our government.

The House Republicans, who spent a year demanding transparency from Democrat Hillary Clinton, voted secretly—without allowing any debate—to disarm and virtually disembowel the independent investigatory Office of Congressional Ethics, which was created in 2008 after a wave of corruption scandals involving prominent Republicans. They took a firm position on that, held it for half a news cycle—then deep-sixed it.

We'll get to all that happened—then abruptly un-happened—in this message-mangling flapdoodle. But first, we need to lift ourselves out of today's muck long enough to recall the monumental mess that led the then-Democrat-controlled Congress to create that office of independent ethics enforcement.

We'll start at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and 11th Street NW. It is 2002 and an Orthodox Jewish gentleman named Jack Abramoff has just opened the only kosher restaurant and deli ever to grace that power road that stretches between the White House and Congress. Abramoff has already made quite a name for himself in the capital city—not so much for the fine briskets, corned beef, lox and bagels he serves his customers, but for the manner in which he established himself as a purveyor of pork and perks as a super-lobbyist who catered to powerful Capitol Hill Republicans and executive branch officials.

In 2008, Abramoff was convicted of federal corruption and tax crimes and was sentenced to four years in prison. The scandal, in which he was the lynchpin, resulted in 13 people pleading guilty to federal crimes. The crimes were widespread, and the misconduct was widely known on Capitol Hill—yet the regular congressional ethics committees were widely considered ineffective. That led an embarrassed House to establish its independent congressional ethics office.

But on Monday, the House Republican Conference convened and a majority of House Republicans caught House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy by surprise, as Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., proposed a rules amendment that would place the independent ethics office under the thumb of the House Ethics Committee. There was no debate; the rank-and-file steamrolled over the ineffectual objections of their leaders and gutted the independent ethics body.

The result of course was a mangling of what had been Trump's simple and most effective theme: Instead of draining Washington's corruption swamp, the House Republicans had just voted to return to the ineffectual enforcement of the old days, when corruption seemed to swamp the Swamp. That was the point of the lead story on The New York Times front page. (The Washington Post missed the importance and played the story on page A4.)

Now, we switch to our favorite intersection of the news media, policy and politics. Here we can clearly see how Washington's agendas are made, how Washington really works—and why it often doesn't. That lead story in the Times meant that the 24/7 all-news cable networks pounced on the story in the morning. And that prompted citizens in every state to start calling Republican representatives offices, voicing outrage at the idea that Republicans seemed suddenly trying to cover up ethical sleaze in politics. At 10 a.m. Tuesday, Trump tweeted, and suddenly, Republican run-amoks were all atwitter.

Trump tapped: "With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog their number one act and priority?"

The now-repentant Abramoff was back in vogue. He told Politico that "moving to diminish oversight is exactly the opposite of what Congress should be doing."

Suddenly, the House GOP steamroller had run out of steam. Ethics shmethics! They reversed their Monday mistake. Nothing would change.

Perhaps Democrats could borrow a page from Trump's paranoia playbook and suggest the House Republicans cleverly rigged the system—they decided to make Trump look good by cleverly looking ridiculous.

But no. Those House Republican rebels, whose ranks still include tea party types who have over-steeped their welcome, ought to adopt the most famous explanation by the most famous Great Swamp critter ever—Walt Kelly's iconic mid-20th century comic strip character, Pogo:

"We have met the enemy and he is us."

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Texarkana Gazette Comments Policy

The Texarkana Gazette web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Gazette web sites and any content on the Gazette web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Gazette, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Gazette web sites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Texarkana Gazette
15 Pine Street
Texarkana, TX 75501
Phone: 903-794-3311
Email: webeditor@texarkanagazette.com