If GOP Leaders Tried To Stop The Gutting Of Ethics Office, Why Did They Fail?

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) faced tough questions Tuesday from reporters about why he and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) were not able to stop fellow House Republicans from weakening the Office of Congressional Ethics.

When asked whether the rules changes to the OCE indicated that McCarthy and Ryan were “very weak leaders of the conference,” McCarthy deflected the question.

“Man, welcome back,” McCarthy said. “You know at my house … I usually don’t win what we watch on TV.”

“One thing the speaker has set up is a very open conference. Inside the rules package, we put a package together, people can offer amendments and people can have that debate and we were able to have that debate and we go forward,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy added later, “We are all individuals.”

McCarthy said he was among the first members to speak in opposition to overhauling the Office of Congressional Ethics through the rules package. McCarthy said he thought the change should have been made in a more bipartisan manner to get buy-in. President-elect Trump also railed against House Republicans on Twitter for the timing of the change.

Weakening OCE was pushed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and would significantly change the way the independent body is run. Under the rules change, it would be overseen by the House Committee on Ethics, which includes an equal number of Republican and Democratic members.

The concern is that members may be reluctant to investigate themselves and that ethics scandals like those that ran rampant in the early 2000s like the Abramoff scandal will return.

Throughout the tense session with reporters, McCarthy sparred with them over what the changes actually did. At one point, a reporter read directly from the rules language to McCarthy.

Seventy-four House Republicans voted against the change to OCE, putting the broader rules package in jeopardy of passing Tuesday.

When asked if he was confident the rules package would even pass, McCarthy said he wanted to refer those questions to the whip.