The US House of Representatives has been forced to drop a plan to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) after President-elect Donald Trump criticized the move.
On Monday, House Republicans voted to weaken the OCE, an independent ethics watchdog established to investigate allegations of misconduct by legislators in the lower chamber of Congress.
Under the change, which provoked a fierce backlash from Democrats and transparency activists, the OCE would come under the control of the House of Representatives Ethics Committee.
The Republicans secretly decided to rename the OCE as “the Office of Congressional Complaint Review,” which would have curbed the office’s influence.
However, they were forced to abandon their plans when Trump intervened, an indication of the powerful influence he appears to be wielding over his party lawmakers.
“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,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday. “Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! #DTS [Drain The Swamp].”
Also, his incoming press secretary, Sean Spicer, told reporters that “he says their focus should be on tax reform and healthcare. It’s not a question of strengthening or weakening, it’s a question of priorities.”
Before Trump’s tweet, some House Republicans, including top leaders, had already opposed the measure, expressing concern about its ramifications.
“People didn’t want this story on opening day,” said Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a Republican.
Meanwhile, Democrats said that Trump had not criticized the move to scale back ethics oversight in Congress, but rather his argument was about the timing of the change.
The OCE was created in March 2008 following a series of criminal violations, including bribery allegations against Representatives Duke Cunningham, Republican of California, Bob Ney, Republican of Ohio and William J. Jefferson, Democrat of Louisiana, as well as disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
All four were ultimately convicted and served time in jail.