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National Politics|By Charlie Cook, January 10, 2017

This story was originally published on nationaljournal.com on January 6, 2017

Reg­u­lar read­ers of this column can prob­ably guess that I am fairly skep­tic­al about the suc­cess of Don­ald Trump’s up­com­ing pres­id­ency, but that doesn’t stop me from giv­ing him a huzzah for call­ing out House Re­pub­lic­ans for their at­tempt to gut the Of­fice of Con­gres­sion­al Eth­ics. In a closed-door meet­ing of the House GOP Con­fer­ence, both Speak­er Paul Ry­an and Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Kev­in Mc­Carthy spoke in op­pos­i­tion to de­fanging OCE and cre­at­ing a tooth­less Of­fice of Con­gres­sion­al Com­plaint Re­view that would in turn an­swer to the per­en­ni­ally worth­less House Eth­ics Com­mit­tee. Once upon a time, the lead­er­ship could kill such an egre­giously bad idea, but sadly those days have passed.

For all the talk of “drain­ing the swamp” in Wash­ing­ton, Re­pub­lic­ans in­stead did a clumsy can­non­ball right in the middle of it, though it could be ar­gued that one per­son’s swamp is an­oth­er per­son’s wa­ter­front prop­erty. Rep. Robert Good­latte de­fen­ded the ef­fort with the ri­dicu­lous ar­gu­ment that it “builds upon and strengthens the ex­ist­ing Of­fice of Con­gres­sion­al Eth­ics,” which was cre­ated after three House mem­bers were sent to fed­er­al pris­on for bribery.

But one of the strongest polit­ic­al un­der­cur­rents this year is that voters hate Wash­ing­ton, loathe ca­reer politi­cians, and com­pletely dis­trust the en­tire polit­ic­al pro­cess. Hav­ing a pro­fes­sion­al OCE staff that doesn’t an­swer to the law­makers and can re­spond to tips without a form­al com­plaint is ex­actly what voters want. To them, re­ly­ing on the House Eth­ics Com­mit­tee is like hav­ing foxes guard the chick­en coop.

Elect­ing Don­ald Trump was the voters’ way of flip­ping the bird to Wash­ing­ton and politi­cians. So it was only ap­pro­pri­ate that the pres­id­ent-elect gave the middle fin­ger to GOP House mem­bers, tweet­ing at 10:02 Tues­day morn­ing: “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,” fol­lowed five minutes later by “……..may be, their num­ber one act and pri­or­ity. Fo­cus on tax re­form, health­care and so many oth­er things of far great­er im­port­ance!”

With­in two hours of the first tweet, an emer­gency meet­ing of the con­fer­ence was con­vened to strip out the of­fend­ing pro­vi­sion be­fore it was voted on by the House as a whole. Here was a case of Trump stop­ping House Re­pub­lic­ans from step­ping on a polit­ic­al land­mine, pre­vent­ing an em­bar­rass­ment from be­com­ing hun­dreds of Demo­crat­ic tele­vi­sion ads next year. Wheth­er Trump op­posed the OCE change or just thought the tim­ing was par­tic­u­larly in­op­por­tune doesn’t mat­ter much. More im­port­antly, Ry­an and Mc­Carthy among oth­ers can say, “I told you so,” the­or­et­ic­ally giv­ing them a little more lever­age the next time the rank-and-file bone­heads come up with a clunker like this one.

What is dis­ap­point­ing is how Trump crit­ics, who are quick to pounce on his every per­ceived trans­gres­sion, didn’t ac­know­ledge that he did the right thing here. To say that someone did one right thing is not to em­brace his every thought, word, or deed. It just gives him cred­it for mak­ing the right call at that time. But that’s not where we are in polit­ics today. Everything is bin­ary: Every­one in polit­ics is either all good or all evil. The former can’t do any­thing wrong, and the lat­ter can do noth­ing right.

What Re­pub­lic­an law­makers are dis­cov­er­ing is that the same bully pul­pit that Trump uses to bludgeon big com­pan­ies to keep jobs in the U.S. can be used against them, and that one or two tweets can change the course of ac­tion on Cap­it­ol Hill with­in two hours. In the past, a pres­id­ent-elect might well have been ad­vised to steer clear of this is­sue in fear of ali­en­at­ing law­makers whose sup­port will be needed with­in a mat­ter of weeks or months. But the dev­il-may-care Trump doesn’t play by the nor­mal rules. Every day is a new day for him, and polit­ic­al han­di­cap­pers can throw out their past-per­form­ance charts. Trump makes up the fu­ture as he goes along.

Not many months ago it was widely ex­pec­ted that Re­pub­lic­ans would lose the pres­id­en­tial race and very pos­sibly their Sen­ate ma­jor­ity. In a lot of ways they are like the dog that fi­nally caught the car. As The New York Times’ Carl Hulse poin­ted out early this week, Re­pub­lic­ans un­ex­pec­tedly will have the White House, the Sen­ate, and the House for the first time in a dec­ade, and nearly two-thirds of cur­rent GOP House mem­bers have nev­er served un­der a Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­ent. They have com­plete re­spons­ib­il­ity for gov­ern­ing, a pro­spect that many have nev­er had and didn’t an­ti­cip­ate—and may be un­pre­pared to handle.

Quite a few House Re­pub­lic­ans have spent the last eight years throw­ing rocks at Pres­id­ent Obama, in­vest­ig­at­ing things big and small, and passing le­gis­la­tion that they knew had little if any chance of be­com­ing law. Now they have to gov­ern, earn­ing their keep by mak­ing tough de­cisions. Wheth­er they like it or not, Trump just re­minded them of what they were elec­ted to do, and it wasn’t to cov­er their own rear ends.