It’s simple, we kill the Batman


Why did no one think of it before? You’ve got a problem, a big meanie who enforces the law and holds the crooks up to scrutiny, so the first step before you begin your crime spree should be to exterminate the people who might catch you at it.

This is exactly what the Republicans have done: before they start (OK, accelerate) looting the country, they’ve killed the Office of Congressional Ethics. Never mind that it was an independent office that policed both Democrats and Republicans — when you’re poised for a historic treasure grab, you can’t have an ethics office notifying everyone of what you’re doing.

It still exists, but instead of acting as an independent entity, it is now subservient to the house ethics committee, which is stocked with partisan lawmakers who get to strangle any nosy investigations, and further, get to silence any mention of any probes. This action was also approved by a secret vote of the congressional Republican caucus — there was no discussion with those pesky Democrats, they didn’t even announce that they were considering it, they just did it and presented it as a fait accompli.

I’m impressed. A comic book villain couldn’t have done it better.

Josh Marshall recommends that you contact your representative to find out how they voted, if you live in a Republican district (I’m not; my rep is a blue dog Democrat, who I’ve never voted before until this last election when I simply voted straight DFL on every office). I don’t know what you can do about it, although I suppose it would be nice to know.


  1. jrkrideau says

    The complete cynicism is breathtaking. I thought the House or Senate or whatever had not even convened.

  2. brett says

    That is slimy. I doubt OCE would have had much success in any case trying to enforce ethics rules against the Republicans in the House (they consistently underfund it), but to sneakily gut it like this tells you all you need to know about Republican-dominated politics come 2017. They can’t have that potentially interfering with whatever corruption they can get away with (and which will undoubtedly be permitted by the Justice Department of President Trump, as long as his family gets their cut).

  3. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    what good are ethics anyway? that’s just whinging about trivial details, Ethics always interferes with the job we are sanctioned to perform. Democracy means we must do what the people want, that is ethical thing to do; so ‘oversight ethics committee’ is just a department of redundancy department. We are the definition of ethics so they are just moochers.

    *blah blech*

  4. fmitchell says

    The problem with “call your representative” is that, for example, mine (Pete Sessions) is a Republican who in the last election was only opposed by the Green party. The Democrats didn’t even try. I assume that means I’m in a gerrymandered district where Sessions never has to worry about losing his seat, and everybody knows it but a few Don Quixotes. My two senators? John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

  5. says

    Oh, please. This headline is not accurate: “Trump slaps GOP for weakening ethics watchdog.” Link.

    No, he didn’t. He slapped them for putting their attention on the Independent Ethics Watchdog as their first priority, when he wanted them to reform healthcare and taxes first. Furthermore, Trump apparently agrees that the Independent Ethics Watchdog should be changed, “as unfair as it is.”

    So, no, Trump does not care if Congress weakens the ethics watchdog. He only cares if it is the first thing they do. I would not be surprised if Trump’s objection is more to the optics, (it looks bad, and is a contradiction to “drain the swamp”), than to actual policy.

    Trump’s tweet:

    With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it ……..may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! #DTS

    The hashtag stands for “Drain the Swamp.”

  6. raven says

    Toynbee had something to say about this.
    Of 22 civilizations, 19 fell from within.
    They rotted like a fish, from the head down.


    Toynbee argues that as civilizations decay, there is a “schism” within the society. In this environment of discord, people resort to archaism (idealization of the past), futurism (idealization of the future), detachment (removal of oneself from the realities of a decaying world), and transcendence (meeting the challenges of the decaying civilization with new insight, e.g., by following a new religion).

    Sound familiar???
    Toynbee found that the dominant minority, in our case the 1%, becomes stagnant and self serving. The majority become cynical, detached, and uncommitted to the society.

    Enjoy your day. And welcome to the next USSR.

  7. raven says

    Xpost from Dispatches
    I’ve said for a month now that the corruption of this administration will be open, massive, and celebrated.
    They aren’t even bothering to hide it.
    This is what happened under Reagan. Widespread financial scandals culminating in the Savings and Loan disaster.

    This is an attack at one of the foundations of a successful country.
    Rule of Law.
    Without a reasonable level of Rule of Law, democracy in general and basic functioning just don’t work very well.
    Just look at other countries. Weak Rule of Law is one of the reasons the third world is…the third world.

  8. inflection says

    The full House HAS NOT YET VOTED on this rules package! The new House will do so this afternoon! Call your Rep’s staff ASAP and tell them you want a vote against.

  9. says

    @6, raven

    Sound familiar???

    Is there ever a time where that doesn’t sound familiar? I think that’s just how people are all the time, so it can’t be used as a “sign” of any kind. :P

    Personally, I’m totally one of the good ones, the “transcendence” people. Meeting the challenges of the decaying civilization with new insight, that’s me alright! (yes, that’s a bit of self-aware humor, but I’m not totally joking)

  10. raven says

    Is there ever a time where that doesn’t sound familiar?

    Not really.
    For a good reason.
    No civilization has ever lasted. They’ve all fallen sooner or later.
    Best I can say, they don’t all go back to the stone age. And they do recover sometimes in a century or so.

    I was hoping our American civilization (used in a colloquial sense) would last for my lifetime.
    Doesn’t look like it will right now.

  11. robro says

    It might be important to remember that the Office of Congressional Ethics was created in 2008. Congress ran without it for 2 centuries during which time there were a number of corruption scandals exposed and political careers ended. So ending OCE probably isn’t exactly an omen to the end of civilization, Armageddon or any other apocalyptic vision.

    Trump is right. They have more important things to do. First bit of business, destroy the legacy of the black guy including such things as a reasonably healthy economy, a modicum of health care protection, and some baby steps to protect the disenfranchised and marginalized. They really need to work on further impoverishing the nations poorest people (women, children, and the elderly); putting women, blacks, and browns in their place; punishing LGBTQ people for being LGBTQ; and stopping the baby murders.

    Besides, rather than a public relations brouhaha which Democrats can use against them, a better strategy is to leave it alone but underfund it (see #2) and quietly ignore any recommendations. Plus, fill it up with people who won’t press any questions too much. Even Democrats would probably go for that (they’ve had their fair share of ethics debacles), as long as the Republicans don’t use the OCE to attack just them.

  12. says

    First, House Republicans voted 119 to 74 to gut their ethics rules. They did this behind closed doors. Next, people found out. People told them what a stupid and unethical move that was. Today they backed down. They scrapped the proposed changes.

    My question is: why didn’t they realize that the move was stupid, unethical, and politically damaging in the first place?

    The agreement to throw away the new plan was unanimous. Translation: “Never mind what we almost did on the first day, please forget that we screwed up this badly.”

    As Steve Benen noted, this quick turn of events may be good news of a sort:

    […] Most of the time, Trump seems immune to shame and public pressure, but this morning is a reminder that congressional Republicans occasionally care about public humiliation. Had there not been a public backlash, there’s little doubt the rules gambit would have been approved by the House GOP majority .[…]

    Maybe we can shame House Republicans into not removing regulations on the financial industry; into not destroying healthcare systems; into not privatizing Medicaid; into not privatizing a lot of the public education system; and into not privatizing healthcare for Veterans. Maybe.

    Public backlash works on Congress, even when it fails when directed at Trump.

    The media is, for the most part, giving Trump credit for House Republicans walking back their bad plan. This is not true. Trump does not deserve credit.

    […] CNN, WaPo, Politico, AP and all the bigs [say] they [House Republicans] gave in when Trump tweeted his equivocal disapproval. That is pretty clearly not the case.

    This story blew up last night. This morning congressional offices were deluged with constituent calls. And the press coverage was universally negative. Trump was clearly reacting to those realities, not driving them. But when the House GOP announced they were killing the proposal, the bigs said it was Trump’s intervention that did it. It may have mildly added to the momentum. But when the train is already rushing down the hill at 120 miles an hour, it can’t get that much faster. […]

    Also, see comment 5.

    Cross posted, with a few edits, from:

  13. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 14:
    I know, The give Trump credit as part of the backlash when he tweeted [paraphrasing] “don;t bother with that trivia yet, kill obamacare, all the other tearing down you gotta do, get busy with REAL stuff, not that mamby pamby ethics committee”
    Trump’s tweet was a complaint, to include in the “backlash” is once again “normalizing” his barfs.

  14. robro says

    Lynna, OM — “why didn’t they realize that the move was stupid, unethical, and politically damaging in the first place?” I think that’s a self-answering question: Because they are stupid, unethical, and arrogant enough to believe the move would not damage them politically. Interestingly, Ryan and McCarthy did not support the caucus vote, perhaps because they knew what the impact would be.

    “They did this behind closed doors.” — I believe all caucus votes, including Democratic party votes, are behind closed doors.

  15. Kimberly Dick says

    Fortunately, it sounds like this bill is currently dead:

    But it sounds like they just want to wait a little until the media forgets about it and try again.

    The disgusting thing is, I’d be willing to bet that if they pass this or a similar bill later, they’ll use it just as much to attack prominent Democrats as they do to avoid oversight for themselves. Either way, the Republicans are very clearly attempting to create a government where the minority party has no power whatsoever, and cement their current majority. I hope they fail so, so hard. The 2018 election is going to be so important.

  16. robro says

    Interesting wrinkle to why Republicans might not be so cheery about the OCE: The board consist of 7 members, 3 are former Democratic members of congress. Another one, Jay Eagan, was sworn in by Nancy Pelosi as the Chief Administrative Officer of the House. And another, Belinda Pinckey, is a retired brigadier general, a woman, and black.

  17. says

    Donald Trump said that the Office of Congressional Ethics was “unfair.” A lot Republicans said something similar when they tried to destroy it.

    However, those claims are not really fact-based.

    […] Leo Wise was amazed. Named the first director of the OCE in 2008, Wise says that perhaps the most important thing to know about the agency is not its broad, sweeping powers to protect House ethics but how little it can actually do.

    “This is a fact-gathering operation. All it does it gather facts,” says Wise, who served as director from 2008 to 2010. “The idea that [the members are] being abused by this doesn’t make any sense.”

    Unlike other similar agencies, the OCE can’t issue sanctions. It can’t force members of the House to testify or turn over evidence and documents. Congressional members ultimately retain authority over its decisions. The OCE can’t even say if it thinks a member of the House did something wrong.

    What the OCE can do is much simpler: issue fact-based reports through investigations conducted by the attorneys on its staff. (The investigations are authorized and approved by an eight-member board of directors, mostly composed of former legislators.) Unlike a stalemated partisan body, the OCE is a bipartisan and independent commission that acts free of political interference.

    That this power alone looked threatening to Congress tells us something about the potential for ethics violations on the Hill — and the extent to which some GOP members may oppose good-government safeguards. (Moreover, even though Republicans backtracked today, they also left the possibility of returning to rolling back the OCE in the future.) […]

    Trump’s advisor, Kellyanne Conway, also made the claim that members of Congress are being (or have been) abused by the Office of Congressional Ethics.

  18. leerudolph says

    “This is a fact-gathering operation. All it does it gather facts,”

    Well, right there is an entirely sufficient reason for the Republican party to oppose it. They don’t like facts.

  19. gijoel says

    @4 Even in a safe seat you can still get a lot done by being a plain old fashion pain in the arse.

  20. Ichthyic says

    The 2018 election is going to be so important.

    nothing will change.

    the US had a chance for change in the 2016 elections. MANY seats in congress were up for grabs.

    what happened?

    the exact OPPOSITE of what should have happened.

    and that was in a POTUS year, where you actually tend to get BETTER turnout.

    you think that’s gonna change for a midterm?

    nuh uh.

    the way I see it the US has ONLY two choices now:

    you either build a new party from the ground up, and have it take over congress (just like the teabaggers did).


    violent revolution and civil war.

    them’s your only real choices. everything else is delusion.

  21. DanDare says

    Standard strategy world wide . Push the most awful ideas early then back down to some acceptable level of bad that would have never been accepted if presented first. It’s a form of one sided compromise.
    Keep an eye out for part two of the anti ethics move.

  22. says

    @22, Ichthyic

    the way I see it the US has ONLY two choices now:

    you either build a new party from the ground up, and have it take over congress (just like the teabaggers did).


    violent revolution and civil war.

    them’s your only real choices. everything else is delusion.

    Well, aside from the possibility that reality will be more dull (same as always, business as usual) than either of those, there is another choice: splitting the country in a non-violent way.

    I’m working on a blog post about the fundamental options (means to an end) to consider in every human conflict, see, and separation is one of the four fundamental options available (that I could think of). The other three are: use of force, “surrender”, or changing minds.

    If changing minds (including grass roots movements) really actually totally fails or doesn’t have a reasonable hope, I’m pretty sure separation should be considered the next best option (if possible) before either “surrender” or war.

  23. raven says

    The 2018 election is going to be so important.

    nothing will change.

    Probably not much will change.
    Every election, everyone thinks is the key election. Most aren’t.

    Bush set us back a generation. Trump likely will set us back at least another generation. As a Boomer, I don’t see the USA coming back in my lifetime.
    And there is nothing magic about a generation. We could just sink into a Banana republic with 40% of the world’s nuclear weapons.

  24. raven says

    The two drivers of our current sickness are:
    1. The white minority status coming in 2043.
    2. The 40 years of increasing economic inequality.

    Of the two, the demographic shift will fix itself.
    The scary minority of the 1800’s were…the Germans. They were going to overrun the Anglo-Saxons. Which they did. And who cares? FWIW, Trump is half German but then again Eisenhower was a German.

    Given Trump and his cabinet picks, economic inequality is going to take a huge jump. The elites aren’t even hiding their power any more and we aren’t much of a democracy any more. It will be dealt with when enough Americans figure it out and decide they don’t like it. And who knows when that will be.

  25. richardemmanuel says

    Evolution being gene economics, we have our model 1:1 with reality, iterated quite a few times already. Looks quite unpredictable, with lots of exciting new developments, and surprising exaptations. This makes sincere ‘intelligent design’ economics a bit tricky, when you don’t know what ‘corporations’ will do what when etc. But post-hoc it’s easy-PZ, to see the net pyramid, at any given time, and a 3 year-old with building blocks would find it trivial to rearrange it better – by all intersubjective consensus definitions of the word. Squash it flat and you’ll have no selection pressure, left to ‘free maths’ you get a flood up. A flood down is just as simple, but you will have to intervene. Just cap private wealth and the macroeconomic lever opens the dam over any arbitrary area of geography. People don’t seem to mind abnegating responsibility to abstract concepts, and geometry is better than most, and the plankton can see it, although you are making some great TV at the moment. The cap is already there as physics. I’d squash it a bit. Any increment would be better, but what fun to argue over the correct ratio of top to bottom. I want to hear from the 10x humans, with their 1000IQs and 1 second 100m etc. There may be even better people.

  26. says

    Well, right there is an entirely sufficient reason for the Republican party to oppose it. They don’t like facts.

    Facts favor one position over another. That means they’re biased and unfair.

  27. Mobius says

    You need to write a correction. While the proposal passed overwhelmingly in the Republican caucus, it went down in flames on the House floor. In fact, it was voted down unanimously, the 119 Republicans that voted for it anonymously in the caucus all voted against it in public.

    I will grant that the Republican leadership in the House was against the proposal. So was Trump…sort of. He said that this isn’t the right time to push it forward but that he thinks the Office is unfair.

  28. jamiejag says

    Their failure to get this rule change passed doesn’t excuse their attempts to drain the swamp of ethical behavior.