House GOP backs off ethics office overhaul after widespread criticism

WASHINGTON — House Republicans reversed course Tuesday amid a firestorm of criticism over their plans to gut a congressional ethics office.

Republicans backed off the proposal that drew the ire of President-elect Donald Trump, who campaigned on a promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington influence and corruption.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and top Republicans had warned colleagues not to pursue the proposal, which would have weakened the independent ethics office.

But the GOP leaders initially appeared resigned Tuesday after rank-and-file lawmakers supported the change, testing the leaders’ ability to control their majority.

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters Tuesday.

By late morning, though, as the full House was set to vote on the broader rules package, Republicans switched course.

Aides said the agreement was reached unanimously by leaders and lawmakers.

The changes would have fundamentally altered the independent Congressional Office of Ethics that was created in 2008 after a series of congressional scandals — including the one involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

McCarthy said he agreed with Trump — that the first day of the new Congress was not the time for such controversial changes — and he said he made some of the same arguments during a private session with Republican lawmakers.

Ryan made a similar plea, aides said.

But the GOP leaders failed to sway fellow Republican lawmakers, a reminder of the challenges the Republicans face in governing their often-willful majority in Congress.

Good-government and watchdog groups warned Republicans to switch course.

“No American, save a few members of Congress and those who want to do business in back rooms, supports this,” said David Donnelly, president and chief executive of Every Voice, a group advocating for campaign finance reforms. “Speaker Paul Ryan said he opposed the measure, and he should show leadership by calling for the Office of Congressional Ethics to be reinstated.”

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