Barr, Comer took right stand on ethics office

Kentuckians Andy Barr and James Comer showed a lot more sense than most of their Republican colleagues when they opposed gutting the U.S. House’s ethics watchdog.

On the eve of the new Congress and with no advance notice, the House Republicans in a private meeting voted 119 to 74 in favor of stripping the Office of Congressional Ethics of its independence and muzzling the agency that was created in 2008 in response to earlier House scandals.

Once the public and president-elect Donald Trump got wind of the plan and responded, House Republicans quickly changed course and withdrew the proposal.

Reps. Barr of Lexington and Comer of Tompkinsville told the Herald-Leader that any changes to the ethics watchdog should be made openly and after bipartisan consideration. The Republican majority was planning to gut the agency through a change in House rules.

Barr’s and Comer’s stands put them on the same side as Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, not a bad place to be, especially for freshman Comer, who was elected in November to succeed Ed Whitfield.

Reps. Hal Rogers, Brett Guthrie and Thomas Massie did not respond to inquiries about their votes. CNN reported that Rogers backed the proposal because of what he called “numerous” false accusations against House members “who had to spend a fortune to get their good name restored.”

If the Office of Congressional Ethics has become a tool for anonymously smearing political rivals to get enough grist for a 30-second attack ad, that is a problem that should be corrected.

But what House Republicans (and no doubt some Democrats) were poised to do was worse even than the “public relations disaster” described by Comer. It was a self-serving move to protect themselves from being held accountable for ethics violations.

And too much ethics has never been one of Congress’ pressing problems.