I didn’t see this coming: The House ethics panel has recommended a tough punishment for Charlie Rangel, the 80-year-old former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Despite his tearful plea for mercy, the panel recommended censure, which is the second toughest punishment at their disposal.
There are a couple of obvious ironies here. The first is this: Rangel might have avoided this embarrassing public spectacle and received a lesser punishment if he had taken the plea deal the ethics committee offered him over the summer. But he rejected it. As a former prosecutor, Rangel should have understood the risk of rejecting the plea.
The second irony is this: It was the iron will of outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who pledged to “drain the swamp” and elevate ethics in the House, that led to Rangel’s predicament. Over the strenuous objections of incoming House Speaker John Boehner, Pelosi insisted on establishing an independent Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate misconduct by members of the House.
Boehner plans to eliminate the OCE. From The National Journal:
Boehner and most of the other House Republicans voted against the OCE’s creation two years ago. Anticipating its closure, the office’s staff director and chief counsel, Leo Wise, has announced that he is leaving for a job with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.
Under Wise, the OCE has looked into 69 complaints and recommended action on 13 of them. It has operated as an inspector general of sorts and has won praise for reviving the House’s notoriously moribund and secretive ethics process. Among others cases, the office brought to light allegations of wrongdoing by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who is now on trial in the House on charges related to fundraising, financial-disclosure, and tax irregularities.
Asked about the OCE, Buck said that Boehner will “take a look at current ethics rules” but that ethics “has really not been the focus of our transition efforts.” GOP leaders probably won’t vote publicly to kill the OCE but will simply quietly defund it next year, said John Wonderlich, policy director of the Sunlight Foundation. The foundation has been working with GOP transition leaders on their transparency agenda and has lobbied for the OCE’s preservation.
Some tea partiers want the OCE to remain open, and an Ohio group has warned Boehner not to shut it down: (h/t ThinkProgress
The Ohio Liberty Council, the main umbrella organization for 58 Tea Party groups in the state, supports efforts to strengthen the OCE and is warning House GOP leaders that any attempt to weaken it will upset Tea Party activists.
“I[f] they move in the opposite direction of transparency that this office provides, I think we will be very upset about that,” said Chris Littleton, president of the Ohio Liberty Council and the Cincinnati Tea Party. “Symbolically, it’s a huge problem for them … they should be as transparent as they can be. Any opposition to that would be inappropriate on their part.”
The tea partiers will lose the fight. Boehner will quietly shut down the office, and House members can resume business as usual.