Congressional Republicans on Tuesday backed down from an approved plan to gut the House’s independent ethics panel and place it under the direct control of the very lawmakers it was established to oversee.
The move comes after intense criticism from Democrats and voters who reportedly flooded Republicans’ offices with complaints. Oh, and also these slap-on-the-wrist tweets from President-elect Donald Trump.
For his lukewarm disapproval, Trump earned a round of good press that framed him as having stood up to his own party in the face of a craven legislative maneuver—even as top adviser Kellyanne Conway defended the GOP plan during an interview with MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
So, was the president-elect really standing up in defense of…ethics? Hardly.
Trump basically criticized the House Republicans for not considering the optics of using their very first hours in office to push through such a decidedly un-swamp draining maneuver. Sean Spicer, Trump’s soon-to-be White House press secretary, clarified as much in remarks to reporters about the tweets, saying “it’s a question of priorities,” and “not a question of strengthening or weakening” the ethics panel.
On this one, Trump’s right, of course—disemboweling the House ethics panel does look pretty bad. But that’s only because it’s pretty fucking bad.
However, as Trump has demonstrated time and time again: What “is” will always come in second behind what “appears to be.” Never mind the fact that this would have destabilized the people and institutions Americans trust to make our laws, it just didn’t play well on TV—and playing well on TV is what he is all about.
House Republicans, meanwhile, seem to have read between Trump’s not-so-subtle lines, and are reportedly promising to revisit their plans to gut the ethics panel sometime soon.