WASHINGTON • House Republicans, overriding their top leaders, voted to significantly curtail the power of an independent ethics office set up in 2008 in the aftermath of corruption scandals that sent three members of Congress to jail.
The move to effectively kill the Office of Congressional Ethics was not made public until late on Monday, when Representative Robert Goodlatte of Virginia, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced that the House Republican Conference had approved the change.
There was no advance notice or debate.
The surprising vote came on the eve of the start of a new session of Congress, where emboldened Republicans are ready to push an ambitious agenda on everything from healthcare to infrastructure.
The move would take away both power and independence from an investigative body and give lawmakers more control over internal inquiries.
Speaker Paul Ryan and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Majority Leader, spoke out to oppose the measure, aides said.
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. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! ''
US PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP, reacting to the Republican move. He said this on Twitter in two consecutive tweets.
The full House was scheduled to vote yesterday on the rules, which would last for two years, until the next congressional elections.
In place of the office, Republicans would create a new Office of Congressional Complaint Review that would report to the House Ethics Committee, which has been accused of ignoring credible allegations of wrongdoing by lawmakers.
"Poor way to begin draining the swamp," Mr Tom Fitton, president of the conservative group Judicial Watch, said on Twitter.
Mr Goodlatte defended the action in a statement, saying it would strengthen ethics oversight in the House while also giving lawmakers better protections against what some members have called overzealous efforts by the Office of Congressional Ethics.
Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Minority Leader, condemned the move.
"Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress," she said in a statement.