03 January 2017

Trump 1, GOP 0?

Congressional Republicans apparently have been intimidated by a tweet from the President-elect into abandoning, or at least postponing an attempt to place the ostensibly independent Office of Congressional Ethics under the effective supervision of the House Ethics Committee. The plan has been criticized for undercutting the OCE by forcing it to get approval from the Ethics Committee -- and, in effect, its Republican majority -- before it could recommend prosecution of anyone. Republicans who support the change, apparently in defiance of Speaker Ryan, claim that the current arrangement is unfair because, among many reasons, the OCE can conduct investigations based on anonymous tips. To be fair to them, that doesn't exactly sound like the best idea in a "fake news" era, but the idea, presumably, was to offer protection through confidentiality to whistleblowers. In any event, Donald Trump questioned the timing of the attempt, if not the principle of the thing. While appearing to agree that the OCE in its current form is "unfair" in some respects, he judges it bad form for the GOP to make this change the new Congress's first priority. Rather than go on the record as opposing Trump, the Republican caucus has backed off for the time being, though they are expected to take the matter up again this summer, presumably a less awkwardly conspicuous time. Whatever the ultimate consequences, this is a clear PR win for Trump, who thus differentiates himself from a GOP more deeply distrusted than him and demonstrates a readiness to hold them accountable in his own fashion. Little gestures like these keep the question open of who really has a mandate for the next couple of years, and whether it's the party's prerogative or the President-elect's to set the agenda for those years. The strong likelihood that Trump will acquiesce in whatever the House plans for the OCE later this year probably won't change the impression created among his fans that he'll be their safeguard against GOP excesses. For all we know, months from now no one will even notice when it happens.

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