Pelosi Portrait Ceremony

Kevin McCarthy is the leader of the House of Representatives. Credit was given to Tom Williams by Q-Roll Call.

Kevin McCarthy spent the first two days of the new year trying to shore up GOP support for his bid to be Speaker by releasing a series of proposals.

The part of his proposed changes to House rules that drew the most attention was allowing just five House members to call for a vote on ousting the Speaker; that would render McCarthy beholden to the most extreme members of his caucus. The new Congress will be sworn in on Tuesday and there is a provision buried in the text that could have a big impact on the Office of Congressional Ethics.

McCarthy wants the OCE to have staff in place for the 118th Congress within 30 days of the resolution being adopted, a requirement that would make it difficult for the office to have the resources it needs to conduct its investigations. OCE would not be able to hire new employees over the next two years if the proposal is approved.

On their first day in Congress, Republicans are not trying to take a hammer to the OCE, but they are taking a scalpel to it.

There are four Democrats and four Republicans on the OCE board. Three of the four Democrats will have to leave their seats immediately. The new leader of the Democrats, Hakeem Jeffries of New York, would be able to make changes to the panel that could slow it down.

The only body that is investigating ethical issues in Congress could be killed by this. The Senate has no investigations. The OCE is the only agency that can investigate the House of significance.

Payne was an OCE deputy chief counsel. It looks like the office is still alive, but it isn't.

Republicans have tried before to take away the Congress's independent ethics panel. The House Republican Conference tried to reduce the power of the OCE, but they were opposed by Speaker Paul Ryan and others.

The circumstances are different this time. Several ultra-conservative lawmakers, including Reps. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Matt Gaetz of Florida, and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, have pledged to vote against McCarthy for speaker. The California legislator is only able to afford four defections.

Lawmakers who are defectors stand to benefit the most from an OCE. More than 30 former members of Congress of both parties requested the ethics panel to investigate the lawmakers who participated in the attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

George Santos, the Republican congressman-elect from New York who appears to have fabricated large swaths of his biography, including his employment history, his educational credentials, and even the circumstances of his mother's death, was expected to be investigated by the OCE.

On Monday, as details of McCarthy's proposal drew more attention, Public Citizen called on him and the next Congress to get rid of the provisions that would weaken the OCE.

McCarthy did not reply.

The Office of Congressional Ethics was established in 2008 after a wave of Democratic victories in the 2006 elections and after corruption scandals that sent multiple members of Congress to jail. The House Ethics Committee has been criticized for being ineffectual and lacking in transparency.

The two are working together. The OCE sends a report of its findings to the House Ethics Committee, which decides if a member should be censured.

The OCE has been effective at probing wrongdoing by both the Democrats and the Republicans. After it's inception, it discovered that a congressman. The trips Rangel accepted as gifts were from a nonprofit group. The House voted to sanction Rangel for violating ethics rules. It was the first entity to look into the congressman. Chris Collins is a Republican. He lied to federal investigators. The president pardoned Collins in 2020.

The OCE was going to have a full plate over the next two years, with a heavy emphasis on the members who participated in the January 6 attack. Congressional watchdogs suspect that McCarthy is trying to protect his members from scrutiny by debilitating the agency of resources and institutional knowledge.

Craig Holman is a government affairs lobbyist with Public Citizen. It is now trying to make it harder to hold members of Congress accountable for their actions.