WASHINGTON, D.C. — Though U.S. Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) later said she was “opposed” to the Republicans’ highly controversial Jan. 2 vote to gut an independent ethics office, she didn’t actually vote against it, because she wasn’t there.
Against the advice of Paul Ryan and other party leaders, House Republicans held a secret vote, with little notice on Monday — a federal holiday — in which they chose, 119 to 74, to place the Office of Congressional Ethics under the control of the House Ethics Committee. Currently, the Office of Congressional Ethics is the only independent body that can investigate allegations of corruption and misconduct in Congress.
After facing a swift and severe backlash, the Republicans reversed their decision in an emergency meeting on Jan. 3. But if the plan had proceeded, it would have severely reduced the office’s power to investigate alleged misconduct, and disclose findings to the public, and would have placed the lawmakers who populate the House Ethics Committee in charge of deciding whether or not to investigate lawmakers. Some of the Republicans who pushed for the vote had themselves been investigated by the OCE.
Seattle news outlet KUOW.org asked Washington state’s Republican lawmakers how they voted. Like the rest of the state’s Congress members, Herrera Beutler declined to give an interview for the Jan. 3 KUOW article, but her office did provide a statement. According to KUOW, “Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s office said the Republican … opposed the move to sap the ethics office’s powers and independence.”
In a Jan. 4 email, the Chinook Observer asked Herrera Beutler’s communications director, Amy Pennington, to clarify whether the Camas-based congresswoman had actually participated in the vote. Pennington responded quickly, saying, “No, due to travel delays when she landed in DC, she wasn’t able to participate in that portion of the Conference meeting, but had she arrived on schedule, she would have opposed the change.” Pennington provided a statement that she sent out to other reporters who made inquiries on Jan. 3:
“Jaime opposed these changes, and was relieved to see them dropped. She has no firsthand experience with the Office of Congressional Ethics and acknowledges that the people who want to change the ethics review process may have a point. However, the American people just voted for new leadership to help solve the very real economic and social problems confronting us, and it sends entirely the wrong message if the first thing that new leadership does is to remove its own independent ethics watchdog.”
Herrera Beutler’s record of participation in D.C. is spotty. In a 2015 analysis of federal lawmakers’ voting records by ProPublica, a nonprofit that specializes in investigative journalism in the public interest, Herrera Beutler ranked seventh on a list of Congress members with the most missed votes between 2007 and fall 2015. During that period, she missed 10.9 percent of votes. Herrera’s first child experienced major health problems during part of this period.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan website www.votesmart.org found that during 2016, Herrera Beutler missed nine of 27, or one-third, of all “key votes” — votes on high-profile issues, votes that were passed or defeated by a very narrow margin, or that Votesmart deemed to be indicative of where the lawmaker stands on an important issue.