Last week, a series of chaotic events in the House of Representatives ultimately served as a powerful lesson for the American people. House Republicans were stopped from crippling the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), the only independent source of congressional ethics review, by their outraged constituents. As congressional decisions become increasingly questionable, we must keep what happened last week in mind.
On Monday, Jan. 2, the night before the new session of congress started, House Republicans resolved to make drastic changes to the OCE in a closed- door meeting. Their plan, set to be voted on the next day, would have severely weakened the OCE, preventing it from taking anonymous complaints, bringing it directly under the control of the House Ethics Committee (eliminating any sense of independence) and even blocking staffers from speaking to the media. The OCE, generally loathed by politicians for its investigations, was created in 2008 after series of political corruption cases which lead to the conviction of multiple Representatives.
Rep. Robert Goodlatte of Virginia announced the approval of the measures on Monday night, despite Republican leadership, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, denouncing the plan. Soon, outcry poured into the House via social media, television, and the press. Democrats, Republican leadership and the media all expressed their outrage with the decision. Even Donald Trump weighed in via Twitter, questioning the priorities (though not necessarily the intentions) of the rebellious Republicans.
Most importantly though, House members involved with the bill were battered with a deluge of angry phone calls from political organizations, experts and constituents. “I can tell you the calls we’ve gotten in my district office and here in Washington surprised me, meaning the numbers of calls. People are just sick and tired,” Rep. Walter B. Jones of North Carolina told the Washington Post.
Less than 24 hours after the plans were unveiled, members announced that they would be scrapped.
This dramatic turn of events should serve as an important reminder to not only members of Congress, but to us, the general public, as well. It’s easy to distance ourselves from what we hear about Congress, to denounce the corruption or gridlock or stupidity of our politicians. In reality though, our representative is always just a phone call away! With an incoming Trump presidency and full Republican control of the House and Senate, political change is likely going to be swift and dramatic. But when objectively outrageous actions like these are planned, we must remember that we can take action as well. As David Leonhardt of the New York Times sagely wrote, “the key is being passionate, organized and focused.” Preventing shameful Congressional decisions won’t always be as quick and easy as this, either. It “will require making phone calls and attending meetings and marches, rather than merely posting outrage on Twitter and Facebook.”
Over the next four years, I have a feeling I’ll be looking back on this mess often. I’ll look back to remember the lesson taught here, and perhaps for inspiration to continue sitting on hold to talk with my representative on the phone.
– Sam Schultheis, Online Content Editor