Political Insider

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House Republicans vote an end to the Jack Abramoff era - and Trump disapproves

U.S. House Republicans on Monday night defied their leaders and voted to gut the chamber's independent ethics panel created in 2008 after several corruption scandals sent members to prison. From the Associated Press:

Lawmakers would have the final say on their colleagues under the change approved 199-74 over arguments from House Speaker Paul Ryan, McCarthy, and other GOP leaders. Some members said they have felt unfairly targeted by the independent panel, and Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to President-elect Donald Trump, said Tuesday on ABC that there had been "overzealousness" under the old system.



Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., told CNN Tuesday that the idea was to give accused lawmakers more information about who was making charges against them. Others complained that the move would clear a path to corruption.

Other scandals were involved in the creation of the Office of Congressional Ethics, but in essence, the House Republican vote puts an end to the Jack Abramoff era. You’ll remember Abramoff as the D.C. lobbyist whose efforts to protect Indian casinos (at outrageous costs) from gambling competitors enveloped several House staff members and Bush administration officials – and scuttled Ralph Reed’s 2006 bid for lieutenant governor in Georgia.

Politico.com reports that last night’s vote was driven, at least in part, by members of Congress who have been scrutinized by the ethics committee:

One of those was Rep. Blake Farenthold, the Texas Republican who was accused by a former staffer of sexual harassment. The OCE recommended in September 2015 that the Ethics panel drop a probe of the matter, but Farenthold did not like the way the case was handled. A court later threw out the staffers' lawsuit as well.


Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) also spoke in support of the measure. The Ethics Committee, at the behest of OCE, had probed whether Roskam accepted an impermissible gift when he and his wife traveled to Taiwan in October 2011. The Ethics Committee approved the Roskams’ trip beforehand as permissible under federal law, but OCE believed the Taiwanese government and not the Chinese Culture University — the official sponsor — “was conducting and organizing his trip.”

President-elect Donald Trump, meanwhile, sent word that he didn't approve:


Bruce LeVell still isn't ready to say whether he'll join the race to replace U.S. Rep. Tom Price. But the Dunwoody jeweler and Donald Trump defender is ready to make a campaign promise. Actually, two.

LeVell, who was head of Trump's diversity coalition and once chaired the Gwinnett GOP, said he would sign a pledge not to take money from any special interest groups if he were to run for the north Atlanta seat. And he would agree to leave office when Trump leaves office - be it four or eight years.

If LeVell runs - he said there's no timetable for his decision - he would likely position himself as the loudest Trump advocate in the field. But that carries dangers, too, as Marco Rubio carried the district in the GOP primary and Trump narrowly defeated Hillary Clinton in the GOP stronghold in November.


Today will be a busy day on Capitol Hill, with both chambers of Congress convening for the new year.

First on the agenda for the House of Representatives is voting for speaker. Paul Ryan is expected to easily win another term as leader, and all of Georgia’s Republicans are expected to back the Wisconsin Republican.

We polled the delegation on the subject back in November and we’re not expecting any of their votes to change. As the congressional newspaper The Hill reports, the more interesting activity may come from across the aisle as Democrats continue to lick their wounds following a brutal election.


Meanwhile, the newest member of Georgia’s congressional delegation will also be sworn in today.

Dentist and former West Point Mayor Drew Ferguson emerged out of the crowded, seven-man GOP primary to replace the retiring Lynn Westmoreland last spring. He battled with state Sen. Mike Crane for the GOP nomination in a runoff that became a proxy battle for control of the GOP between establishment-oriented groups and tea party-aligned groups.

He easily defeated Democrat Angela Pendley in the safe Republican 3rd Congressional District in November.

Across the Capitol, Republican Johnny Isakson will also get sworn in for a third term in the U.S. Senate by Vice President Joe Biden.


U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, had one of the better New Year’s resolutions we’ve seen:



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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.