US Republicans call off plan to 'effectively destroy' ethics body

Measures to weaken the office were highly criticised

US Republicans call off plan to 'effectively destroy' ethics body

The United States Capitol building. Picture by Carolyn Kaster AP/Press Association Images

US Republican lawmakers have called off plans to weaken an independent ethics body.

Their decision to adopt the measure Monday had opened splits in the GOP and put House Speaker Paul Ryan and Donald Trump on opposite sides of a key issue on the first day of the 115th Congress.

The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) was established in 2008 as an independent and non-partisan group charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against members of Congress, as well as their officers and staff.

However it transpired last night that Republicans had passed a vote to curtail the office's powers, with The New York Times reporting the announcement came 'without advance notice or debate on the measure'.

The measure proposed the creation of the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, which would report to the House Ethics Committee - an in-house congressional committee.

The measure was announced by Representative Robert Goodlatte, who defended the move - arguing it would in fact 'strengthen' the office.

The Republican President-elect Donald Trump - who pledged to introduce ethics reforms as part of his goal to 'drain the swamp' in Washington - acknowledged that the move 'weakened' the body.

However, he also suggested politicians should focus on things of 'far greater importance':

News of the measure drew swift condemnation from Democrats, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, while Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said the measure would 'effectively destroy' the OCE.

In a statement, she argued: "Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions. Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.

"Congress must hold itself to the highest standards of conduct. Instead, the House Republicans Conference has acted to weaken ethics and silence would-be whistleblowers."