US Congress: Republicans drop plans to weaken ethics committee

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By Everton Gayle  with REUTERS
US Congress: Republicans drop plans to weaken ethics committee

Republicans in the US House of Representatives have backed down over plans to weaken a nonpartisan ethics watchdog on the grounds it had grown too intrusive.

On their return to Washington following a holiday break, House Republicans voted to place the Office of Congressional Ethics under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee, giving lawmakers greater control over an independent body charged with investigating their behaviour.

But their plans ran into a storm of bipartisan criticism from democrats and ethics groups.

Then President Elect Donald Trump weighed in, suggesting they focus on things of “far greater importance”.

Trump was elected on a ticket that promised to drain what he called the Washington swamp.

The ethics office was created in 2008 following several corruption scandals, but some lawmakers have, in recent years, accused it of being too quick to investigate complaints lodged by outside partisan groups.

The new body would have had to deliver its reports to lawmakers, rather than releasing them directly to the public.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Republicans were eliminating the only independent body that was responsible for monitoring their actions.

“Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress,” Pelosi said.

The reversal is an embarrassing turnabout for Republicans on the first day of business for the new Congress.