An ethical dilemma for Congress

Pradyot Sharma

Staff Writer

While the focus this new year was on President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees and their track records, the 115th United States Congress met for the first time earlier this month.

The expectations laid on them were high. The preceding Congress was remembered for the following acts: inviting a foreign leader to speak without consulting the president, members going rogue and writing a letter expressing their doubts about the president’s authority to a foreign government, and more recently, the Senate refusing to hold hearings for a Supreme Court nominee.

The song all the members sang was the same: “If we were in charge, we would do better.”

The nation listened to that song, and in an election that they won claiming ethical and moral superiority, the Republicans managed to do something that no party has done in a while. Not only did they win the White House, but they also secured majorities in both the House and the Senate.

The stage was set and the curtains ready to be drawn. But even before the first scene, in the most curious case of irony, the GOP voted behind closed doors to virtually neuter the “Office of Congressional Ethics,” the independent committee tasked with investigating ethical breaches by the members of Congress.

The bill, which was a part of a larger house reform package, brought the OCE under the House Ethics Committee and took away its power to investigate anonymous tips on House members.

The official clause said, “Nothing … may be construed to authorize the board of the OCE to make any public statement, or release any information or other material to the public or any other entity, unless such statement or information has already been released by the Committee on Ethics or the release of such statement or information has been authorized by the Committee on Ethics”

The Office of Congressional Ethics would also have had to shut down any investigation if the House Ethics Committee asked it to. The provision read, “The board shall immediately cease any investigation of the matter, and shall notify the individual who is the subject of the review accordingly.”

Even though the GOP later abandoned this proposal due to backlash from the public and a tweet by the president-elect, passing this bill would have meant that the U.S. Congress would have been ethically accountable to itself. This would be like asking a convict to judge whether he is guilty or not and then pass a sentence on himself.

It isn’t the act itself that raises the big questions here. The priority given to gutting an independent ethics watchdog shows that the GOP wasn’t worthy of the ethical trust that the people put on it.

Members of the House are “representatives” of the American people. Their job should be to represent, and in that level, there is always going to be scrutiny over them.

The appropriate response is to show that they have nothing to hide and to not try to get rid of that oversight because it’s inconvenient.

At a time when the nation faces uncertainty and is asking questions about conflicts of interest and nepotism, Congress added to that dilemma instead of reassuring people of the integrity of the government.

It seems hypocritical that the GOP, which bashed the Democrats about their ethics, would complain that they feel the OCE is unfair.

While President-Elect Trump condemned them for making that move first, he still stated that this office was unfair.

The signs seem to indicate that if we are not aware and involved with what is happening, then the nation could be drastically set back.

This government has great power. However, I believe that this is when the power of the people is tested. The people gave the government their mandate, but it doesn’t end there. Congress is accountable to the people, which means they should be subject to oversight.

The nation is at a divide, and the government doesn’t seem to be helping much in bridging it. At a time when there are so many international and domestic issues at hand, Congress should focus on solving critical issues.

The nation should come together in this to ensure that the executive and the House act in the interest of the people, not against it.

This is a government for the people, one that isn’t above them.

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