The First Longest Day

The new Congress is in session, and House Republicans already have backed down on their plan to gut the power of the Office of Congressional Ethics. What have we learned so far?

While it remains indispensable for understanding whatever is going on in the world, The New York Times already is having problems.

Its home page headline said, “As Trump Joins Outcry, House Cancels Gutting of Ethics Office” in what was called the Goodlatte Amendment for a Republican congressman from Virginia. The bullet point below—in the print version, it would be called a drop deck, and it’s smaller and less important—said, “In a pair of postings on Twitter, President-elect Donald J. Trump called the Office of Congressional Ethics ‘unfair,’ but said focusing on it was a case of misplaced priorities.”

So, what outcry did Trump join?

The one that objected to the hypocrisy about draining the swamp?

Given his distaste for consistency, it’s theoretically possible: he obviously believes it isn’t corruption if it involves him. But he didn’t condemn House Republicans for trying to make it easier for themselves to be crooked if they so choose. He condemned them for putting this ahead of other issues that matter to him more.

What also happened is that House Republicans were inundated with phone calls and emails. What they said can’t be known, but any Republican voters they heard from probably were anti-government and therefore don’t trust them anyway. The best guess is that Democratic voters were predictably irate and actually acted on their ire.

Further, House GOP leaders demonstrated the wisdom of Bette Davis’s warning that we’re in for a bumpy ride. The caucus vote was 119-74. Two of those who opposed the vote to gut the ethics office were Speaker Paul Ryan, who likes $350 bottles of wine at restaurants that lobbyists like, and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who went on Fox News to explain that the committee on Benghazi wasn’t funded to find out the truth, but to harm Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers.

But their caucus … ignored them until the heat was on.

This could be a good sign for Democrats that House Republicans are still divided between being far to the right or going over the cliff. Ryan got the speaker’s job when John Boehner couldn’t take it any more, and those in the caucus to Boehner’s right were making his life so miserable that he couldn’t even play a round of golf with the president. Ryan’s and McCarthy’s opposition to the Goodlatte Amendment didn’t move the majority of their caucus.

All of which is a reminder that members of Congress run for office in their own states and districts. Some may owe their seats to support from a higher-up in the House or Senate, or in the executive branch. Whether House Republicans feel any loyalty to Trump or Ryan remains to be seen. And if the media aren’t going to emphasize dishonesty when it is dishonesty, Republican lives will be much easier.

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About Michael Green

Michael Green is an associate professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he teaches U.S. history. His specialties include the Civil War era, political history, and western history, especially Nevada and Las Vegas. He is a former newspaper reporter and editor who writes columns for Vegas Seven and Nevada's Washington Watch, as well as a history feature, Nevada Yesterdays, for Nevada Public Radio. He serves on the boards of The Mob Museum, the Institute for a Progressive Nevada, Preserve Nevada, and the Nevada Center for Civic Engagement.
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