Back in 1994, voters awarded control of the U.S. House to Republicans for the first time in two generations after congressional Democrats found themselves painted as arrogant and out of touch following a handful of scandals and missteps.
Some members of the current GOP majority in the lower house might want to revisit that history.
On the first day of the 115th Congress on Tuesday House Republicans stumbled out the gate with a misguided attempt to abolish the 9-year-old independent congressional ethics panel and place it under the control of lawmakers. After harsh criticism — including from Donald Trump — they backed off.
It was the right move.
“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 asked on Twitter. He suggested that the focus should be on health care and tax reform, and used the hash-tag #DTS, for “Drain the Swamp,” signifying his oft-repeated campaign promise to bring change to Washington.
The episode perhaps foreshadows the president-elect’s influence over a GOP Congress.
At any rate, this is the second time in weeks that House Republicans have appeared deaf to public sentiment. In November, Speaker Paul Ryan convinced his colleagues to postpone a vote to restore congressional earmarks, the process by which members steer tax dollars toward pork-barrel spending projects for their districts.
Both the proposal to eliminate the ethics board and the push to revive earmarks smack of a sheltered majority impervious to the political ramifications of upending reforms intended to promote transparency, good government and spending restraint.
Yes, some of the GOP concerns about the independent ethics panel may be legitimate, particularly regarding due process. But by making this a top priority, advocates exhibit the same sort of tin-ear sensibilities that cost House Democrats their majority during the Clinton years. Let’s hope Speaker Ryan ensures these types of political blunders are few and far between.