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Two lawmakers question why House Members exempt from annual ethics training

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

Two U.S. representatives are questioning a curious practice on the Hill that exempts House Members from ethics training. But it doesn’t look like they are getting much support from their colleagues that enjoy this perk.

Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), and Scott Rigell (R-Va.), are urging congressional leaders to end the House exemption on the annual ethics courses required of all House staffers, senators, and Senate staffers.

The two wrote Thursday to GOP and Democratic leaders of the Rules Committee asking that they make this change in the upcoming House rules package that the new Congress will vote on in January.

“It is our belief that a change in House rules will help increase understanding and reduce confusion of the rules, help decrease the number of future ethics violations by members, and, most importantly, help restore the public’s faith and trust in Congress,” the lawmakers wrote.

The  “Honest Leadership and Open Government Act” became law in 2007, but the House simply decided they didn’t want to be included in the version of the law they passed.

Craig Holman of Public Citizen told the National Journal that the law was part of the Senate response to the corruption scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff and then-Rep. Bob Ney. The Senate passed it with language that required senators and all Senate aides to take “ongoing” ethics training.

The bill also passed the House with bipartisan support. But the House only included its staffers in the law’s requirements.

“No one pushed to extend the Senate mandatory ethics training provision to the House, out of concern of aggravating congressional opposition,” Holman told National Journal.

But as ethics complaints against House members stack up, this no longer seems to be a viable solution.

National Journal notes that there are currently pending ethics complaints against Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Tom Petri (R-Wis.), Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.),Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), Aaron Schock, (R-Ill.), Luis Gutierrez, (D-Ill.), GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rogers, (R-Wash.), Bobby Rush, (D-Ill.), and Ed Whitfield, (R-Ky.).

“It seems like an obvious requirement that every member of this body should have a clear and complete understanding of the rules and regulations that govern the House of Representatives,” Cicilline said back in September while testifying before the Rules Committee.

“This oversight in the House Rules only perpetuates the perception that Congress believes the rules don’t apply to us and it only increases the public’s distrust of Congress.”

So far the two lawmakers have not seen much support from other representatives.

“Members submitted their proposals at the subcommittee hearing held in September and the committee is currently reviewing all of the member requests as we develop the House rules package for the 114th Congress,” was the only answer the Journal could get from the spokesman for Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions. There was no comment at all from the House Ethics Committee.

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