Why Trump’s move on ethics office will be rare

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin shakes hands with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco as the 115th Congress convened Tuesday.
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin shakes hands with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco as the 115th Congress convened Tuesday. The Associated Press

When even Donald Trump – who seems willfully blind to his own ethical shortcomings – has a problem with your plan to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, you know you’ve messed up.

Such is the self-inflicted wound suffered by House Republicans, who in their very first action of the new Congress – in a closed-door secret ballot, no less – voted Monday night to eliminate the office, created in 2008 after a series of bribery and corruption scandals.

In an emergency meeting Tuesday, Republicans reversed course after criticism from Trump, party leaders, Democrats, watchdog groups across the political spectrum and some of their own constituents.

Yes, Trump weighed in via Twitter, which is a ridiculous and dangerous way to pronounce policy. And he called the office “unfair,” suggesting he might not oppose gutting it later. House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield also made clear they object to the ethics office’s powers, and that their concern was more the timing.

Still, on the broad point that Congress has much higher priorities, Trump was right. “Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!” he tweeted.

Unfortunately, Trump and the Republican-controlled 115th Congress that convened Tuesday want to take America in the wrong direction on tax reform, health care and much more.

They plan to finally make good on their threat to repeal Obamacare, though after 60-plus attempts they still have offered no detailed plan for what would replace it. Neither has Trump.

Instead, just after being sworn in, Senate Republicans introduced a procedural measure that is designed to block a Democratic filibuster and that directs committees to draft repeal legislation by Jan. 27.

What’s the rush? It’s much more important to make sure any changes don’t make America’s health care system worse than to rush to make it the first major bill on the president-elect’s desk.

On taxes, Trump wants to go even further than House Republicans in cutting taxes in a way that would be a windfall to the wealthy and corporations – personified by many of his Cabinet nominees – and would do far less for working and middle-class Americans.

In her speech to the new House, top Democrat Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco pledged to seek common ground with Trump and Republicans on a job-creating infrastructure plan and efforts to “drain the swamp” of big money and special interests in Washington, D.C.

But she warned that Democrats will stand their ground and protect health care access, clean air and water, civil rights and other advances during the Obama years.

Good. Democrats must try to stop GOP overreach. On occasion, like the ethics office fiasco, Trump may even pitch in. But they shouldn’t count on it.

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