We shouldn’t be surprised to get surprises from the freshman members of the 116th Congress. They’re young, diverse, and female-in other words, diametrically opposed to what we’ve had in the past. What one wouldn’t expect was to have a video (see below) about government ethics, of all things, go viral. But that’s exactly what happened after Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) creatively questioned a panel of ethics experts during a hearing dedicated to H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2019, which was convened in the House Oversight and Reform Committee last Wednesday.
Ethics and oversight were high on the legislative agenda last Wednesday. On the same day that Ocasio-Cortez was giving us an accessible primer on how easy it is for elected officials to skirt the law, especially in the Executive Branch, veteran Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) introduced H.R. 1028, the Restoring Integrity, Governance, Honesty, and Transparency Act or RIGHT Act. The RIGHT Act comes on the heels of H.R. 1, the first piece of legislation introduced by the new Congress, aimed at strengthening our democracy. The RIGHT Act would build on the reforms laid out in H.R. 1 by specifically targeting loopholes and weaknesses in current ethics and accountability laws governing elected officials.
In introducing the legislation to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Speier said:
“Over the past two years, unprecedented levels of unethical behavior, nepotism, and misconduct in the Executive Branch poses a clear and present danger to not only our electoral systems but the very foundation of our democracy. The abuses and excesses of the President, his family, and his cronies also highlight the inadequacy of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 (EGA) when it comes to oversight of the Trump presidency. As a strong supporter of H.R. 1, I look forward to working with Congressman Sarbanes and Chairman Cummings to make sure that we close legal loopholes that have been stretched to the breaking point by the Trump Administration.”
One of the side-effects of the Trump era is the ushering in of some unlikely celebrities. One such person is Walter Shaub, who sat on the panel Ocasio-Cortez questioned during last week’s hearing. Shaub was the director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE). The unassuming, low-key Shaub first came to prominence as a cable news commentator during the early months of the Trump presidency. Since resigning from his post at OGE in July of 2017, Shaub joined CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) as senior director and has become a Twitter sensation and outspoken critic of the Trump administration.
Shaub described the RIGHT Act introduced by Speier as follows:
“This is an incredibly important piece of legislation. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is proud to support the RIGHT Act, which will enhance transparency, strengthen enforcement and increase accountability. I’m particularly impressed with the way it targets several key gaps in our framework for government integrity with pinpoint precision and proposes very effective solutions. We thank Representative Jackie Speier for her leadership in introducing the bill and look forward to working with Congress on this critical issue.”
Later, Shaub broke down the important points of the bill in a series of tweets:
As to be expected, reform bills like H.R. 1 and H.R. 1028 have met with partisan pushback. Ranking Republican member on the Oversight Committee, Jim Jordan (R-OH) says H.R. 1 “reads more like a wish list for Democrats than an honest attempt at reform.” And even if both bills make it out of the Democratically controlled House, passage in the Senate could be an uphill battle, especially since Leader McConnell has called the reform packages “a power grab”.
“It’s a lot harder for folks to get behind ethics reform when they implicate their own practices or hurt their ability to win elections,” Delaney Marsco, an ethics expert and legal counsel with the Campaign Legal Center, a D.C. good government watchdog group, said. “It’s kind of a fox guarding the henhouse situation.”
But there’s a new fox in the henhouse, and I for one wouldn’t bet against the freshman class of the 116th. Stay tuned for more surprises.
posted by Amy Levengood
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