The first official act of House Republicans in 2017 is bad, but it also feels like a formality.
The House Republican Conference voted last night to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics to such a degree that it may as well not even exist after today.
The move to effectively kill the Office of Congressional Ethics was not made public until late Monday, when Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced that the House Republican Conference had approved the change. There was no advance notice or debate on the measure.
Ironically, the vote to kill the independent office did not include a roll call, meaning it was effectively a secret ballot. Moreover, the vote was held on a federal holiday.
Under the new rules, the Office of Congressional Ethics will not be able to accept anonymous tips, can no longer disclose its findings, can no longer recommend cases to law enforcement, and will be entirely subordinate to the House Ethics Committee.
And that last line is especially pertinent because the House Ethics Committee is a bad joke.
If we had a living, breathing ethics committee, it would have investigated Republicans who publicly admitted to using the Select Benghazi Committee as a taxpayer-funded opposition research program. A functioning ethics committee would have investigated former Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa and Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy for selectively leaking confidential, incomplete interview transcripts to the press.
Not coincidentally, the last time Republicans controlled all three branches of government in 2005, one of their first acts was to weaken congressional ethics rules. When Democrats regained control of Congress in 2007, one of their first acts was to create the independent Office of Congressional Ethics that isn't subject to the whims of congressional committees.
Ethics has never been a priority or even a concern of congressional Republicans and the most corrupt president in our history will soon take office. There's no reason to think Republicans will behave ethically in 2017 and every reason to assume they won't.
Update... Republicans have reportedly pulled the rules changes ahead of a final vote on the floor of the House. They probably wanted to avoid the embarrassing roll call.
One wonders how Republicans will handle significantly tougher votes, like the one to gut our entire healthcare system, if they can't handle a vote to close the ethics office.