Yesterday, January 3rd, was the first day of the new Congress where Republicans will be in control of the White House and both houses of Congress (and before long also the Supreme Court). With their eight years of obstructionism and criticism of Obama's policies without offering their own alternate plans, it was a serious question whether they know how to govern -- or only how to criticize and obstruct.
Their number one plan is their loudly proclaimed strategy on Obamacare: Repeal and Delay. Not repeal and replace -- because they haven't been able to come up with a workable replacement. So they intend to pass a law to repeal it, but then delay the effect for up to four years while they figure out how to replace it.
That, in itself, is rather pathetic. They haven't been able to make a workable alternative in the same time that Democrats crafted Obamacare, got it passed and up and going, in spite of tinkering by SCOTUS and the states that undid some of the parts that made it work. And, yet, it is working anyway. Up to 20 million people who didn't have health insurance before now have it.
So, of course, the Republicans want to kill it. And hope some magic will occur to them in the next four years. It won't.
So, what did they decide to do on the first day of the new congress under their full control? Who could have predicted something so boneheaded? The Republicans actually voted to attach an amendment to the rules resolution that would take all the power out of their own, relatively independent ethics watchdog, the Office of Congressional Ethics. The amendment was adopted by a secret vote of 119-74 in the Republican caucus.
Here's what their decision would do, as explained by Huffington Post's Ryan Grim:
"The measure was extraordinary. It would rename the OCE to become the Office of Congressional Complaint Review. It would bar it from investigating any anonymous tips. It would block the body from moving forward on any investigation without full approval by members of Congress who oversee it, yet it would have no investigative ability to uncover evidence in order to obtain that approval. It would require the body to shut down an investigation on orders from those same members of Congress. And if the office learned of potential criminal activity, it would be barred from directly contacting law enforcement, a restriction of dubious constitutionality (and one devoid of ethics)."
In the most hopeful evidence that the next four years may not be as bad as we fear, consider what happened next. Word got out. And public reaction erupted, first on Twitter, then in the New York Times, and then flooding congressional offices with phone calls.
Perhaps reading the public reaction, or perhaps from genuine opposition, President-elect Donald Trump jumped into the debate (on Twitter, of course), writing:
“With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!”
With the powerful public reaction shaming them, and with the president-elect's scolding, the House GOP members reconvened on Tuesday and scrapped the whole idea. At least for now. Many people of both parties believe that the ethics watchdog should be reformed. But the timing and the lack of political wisdom shows that the Republicans may not be quite ready for prime time. This was a failure both on policy and on political skill. It even gave Donald Trump the chance to look presidential (well, doing it on Twitter doesn't quite look presidential) -- but at least he seemed more like the adult in the room.
Maybe there's just a wee bit of hope for the next four years -- primarily from the effectiveness demonstrated by grass-roots, public reaction that could shame members of congress into reversing a bad decision. Public opinion still matters.