Miami Republicans Supported Gutting House Ethics Office Before Changing Their Minds

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Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo love to position themselves among the most center-leaning GOP members in Congress. Ros-Lehtinen is passionately pro-LGBT rights. Curbelo ran for reelection as a hard #NeverTrump Republican.

But both Miamians voted yesterday to all but eradicate the Office of Congressional Ethics, which was formed to police government corruption. Even Donald J. Trump didn't think that vote was a good idea.

The House has since changed its mind, and Republicans unanimously reversed their vote today. But both Miamians deserve some shame for openly trying to destroy a major government watchdog.

According to statements issued early this morning, Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo supported the bill, which was proposed by Virigina Rep. Bob Goodlatte. Republicans initially couched the bill as one that would "reform" the ethics office and give House members more "due process" during investigations.

But most independent government watchdogs agree the bill would have instead gutted nearly the entire office without replacing it. The bill would have prohibited the commission from communicating with law enforcement if a congressperson was involved in criminal activity. Critics — basically everyone besides the members of the U.S. House — said the move to dismantle the office in a closed-door, Republican-only vote was a terrible idea.

In a statement issued earlier today, Ros-Lehtinen confirmed she voted for the rule change yesterday.

"I voted for Rep. Goodlatte's amendment to improve and reorganize the renamed Office of Congressional Compliant Review (OCCR) because it includes much-needed oversight and accountability from the House Ethics Committee," Ros-Lehtinen said:

Curbelo, too, told the Miami Herald that he would support the bill when it came up for a full vote today. In a statement, his spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez threw out a wholly tone-deaf shout-out to Miami's own corruption problems, stating that because Miami is such a corrupt place, Curbelo knows a thing or two about it.

So, naturally, he's voting to stop the government from investigating corruption.

"Coming from a district that knows firsthand the impact corruption has on a community, Congressman Curbelo has always been committed to ensuring members of Congress are held accountable and allegations of misconduct are investigated seriously," she said.

But it appears House Republicans were cool with ridding Washington of its anti-corruption task force as long as nobody noticed. After a morning of sustained public outcry — including a word of caution from Trump, who otherwise manages his life like a circus bull riding a Tilt-a-Whirl — the House unanimously withdrew the bill.

After the new vote, Curbelo's press team issued a new statement, stating that, although the congressman believes the ethics office needs reform, this bill — the one he supported mere hours earlier — suddenly didn't seem all that great. He now says any ethics-reform measures should get some input from both parties.

"The House ethics process needs to be reformed in order to better investigate allegations of misconduct," Curbelo said in a statement to New Times. "I support referring this matter to the House Ethics committee where Republicans and Democrats can work together on bipartisan reforms that would ensure Members of Congress are held accountable while given due process to address accusations.”

A spokesperson for Ros-Lehtinen did not respond to New Times' requests for comment. (Fellow Miami GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart never threw his support behind the rule change.)

But to focus on the GOP's concerns about "due process" here is to miss the point: Absolutely no one was concerned about the Office of Congressional Ethics before late yesterday afternoon. Voters didn't care about it; in fact, once they got wind that Republicans were gutting the office, voters on both sides of the aisle seemed to be enraged. After a year of its base chanting, "Drain the swamp," the House's very first vote was to set up an industry-fueled fan-boat tour business on top of the swamp instead.

But voters should not forget how quickly Miami's PR-concerned representatives voted to sell out the American public. During this campaign season, both Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo begged for applause from the public for pushing for common-sense things such as climate-change reform or LGBT equality.

They should not get a pass for today's vote.

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