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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida Republicans blast and defend attempt to gut ethics office



House Republicans, facing a fierce backlash that included President-elect Donald Trump, backed off a plan to diminish the Office of Congressional Ethics.

The vote approving the changes was secret but one Florida Republican said today he was always against the move.

“I opposed this measure from the very beginning, and I am glad to see that it will not have a place in the 115th Congress,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor. “I am confident that this House will continue to hold Members to the highest ethical standards, fully accountable to the people. The public’s trust must never be taken for granted.”

Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland also opposed changes, a spokeswoman said. A spokeswoman for Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota said: "Vern did not attend the meeting last night when this change was approved, but he agrees with the decision to strip the language from the rules package because Congress should be focused on tax reform, fighting terrorism and improving the lives of ordinary Americans."

Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told the Miami Herald they supported changes. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said OCE is in "dire need of reform" but not this way.

"I voted for Rep. Goodlatte's amendment to improve and reorganize the renamed Office of Congressional Complaint Review (OCCR) because it includes much needed oversight and accountability from the House Ethics Committee," Ros-Lehtinen said. "The reforms will allow for due process rights for all parties involved and will ensure a fair hearing as Members of Congress seek to better serve our constituents."

Curbelo spokeswoman:

"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. "The Office of Congressional Ethics has not lived up to its stated mission and reforms are long overdue to strengthen its ability to take complaints from the public, complete independent investigations, and provide due process for those facing allegations of misconduct. The Congressman supports Speaker [Paul] Ryan's commitment to protect the Office's independence and he is dedicated to making sure that commitment is honored."

Following the reversal, he issued a second statement: “The House ethics process needs to be reformed in order to better investigate allegations of misconduct. 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.”

Diaz-Balart: "The Office of Congressional Ethics is in dire need of reform. Members of Congress must be held accountable to the highest standard in a process that is fair and just. I strongly believe the way to do this is in a bipartisan, open discussion through legislation, not through the rules package."

The Buzz has reached out to other Florida Republicans.

Rep. Ron DeSantis (via Twitter) "House GOP needs to remove the ethics provision from the rules package - shouldn't be making changes like this behind closed doors. #ToneDeaf."

Rep. Matt Gaetz reacted on Twitter to a user who said he opposed the changes. "Yeah," the rookie lawmaker wrote. "I'm pro-ethics."

Rep. Brian Mast said he opposed the changes but would have voted for the rules package. (source)

Rep. Neal Dunn said he didn't voite for changes but because he lacked information. (source)

Rep. Ted Yoho via spokesman: "The vote to place the Office of Congressional Ethics under the oversight of the bipartisan House Ethics Committee was not an official vote. The congressman was not present for the vote due to a mechanical delay with his flight from Gainesville to DC. The congressman does feel that there needs to be reforms made to the OCE - reforms that were recommended by the 2007 bipartisan Special Task Force on Ethics Enforcement. The reforms do not change the public’s ability to hold members of Congress accountable."

Rep. Francis Rooney was not present Monday night but said: "We need to drain the swamp. Ethics should be a bipartisan issue and changes to the OCE must include all parties involved, so that we can ensure the strongest possible commitment to ethical government while protecting due process."

Rep. John Rutherford opposed the changes, a spokesman said, and wants any reforms done on a bipartisan basis. Unclear how he voted.

Rep. Dan Webster spokeswoman said he voted against changes: "Congressman Webster supports transparency and accountability and is pleased the House Rules passed yesterday did not include the OCE amendment.”

Rep. Tom Rooney spokeswoman: "We are not commenting on this one."

[Last modified: Friday, January 6, 2017 12:39pm]


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