Friday, January 20, 2017

Republicans Push Confirmations Before Due Diligence

Almost two weeks ago Republicans in Congress voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) by taking away both power and independence from the investigative body, and give lawmakers more control over internal inquiries. The mission of the bi-partisan OCE is "to assist the House in upholding high standards of ethical conduct for its Members, officers, and staff and, in so doing, to serve the American people". In the last term it investigated 16 members of Congress, three of them from Texas. The House Republican Conference thought they’d pull the wool over the eyes of the American people by holding the vote late in the day without warning and without discussion.

The vote made headlines the next day and by the time new members of the House had been sworn in and Speaker Ryan called the House to order thousands of Americans both Republican and Democrat had called their representatives to express their disgust and demand that the move be withdrawn. The Republicans heard the people and in a victory for both transparency and democracy relented. This victory belongs to you my fellow citizens.

Now Republicans in the Senate, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are attempting to sidestep normal procedures on confirming cabinet nominations by holding hearings and votes before the nominees have even filed their financial and employment disclosure forms with the Office of Government Ethics as required by legislation passed in 1978. Review of those documents usually takes a few weeks, not a few days so there should be no hurry to vote on these nominees. That’s not stopping Senate Republicans who are rushing to pass them through, which makes me wonder what they’re hoping to hide from the American people.

Secretary of Education nominee and billionaire, Betsy DeVos is just one of the four nominees who hasn’t filed disclosure forms and she has financial entanglements akin to those of Donald Trump so there is plenty of room for conflicts of interest that the vetting procedures of the Office of Government Ethics are designed to discover and help resolve. DeVos and others whose ethics reviews aren’t complete should not be voted on because we “the people” have the right to expect our government officials will not use public office to line their private pockets.

The success of phone calls by people like you and me in stopping House Republicans from shutting down the watchdogs at the Office of Congressional Ethics should embolden everyone reading this to call Senators Cornyn and Cruz at their San Antonio offices to demand that no votes on Trump’s nominees be held until a thorough review of their ethics disclosures has been performed. You can call Sen. Cornyn at 210-224-7485 and Sen. Cruz at 210-340-2885.

Keep those phone numbers handy as it’s a sure thing we’ll all have many reasons to call them over the next four years.

Published in the Seguin Gazette January 13, 2017

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