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Public Statements

Establishing an Office of Congressional Ethics

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Establishing an Office of Congressional Ethics


Ms. PELOSI. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlelady from Ohio, Congresswoman Sutton, for yielding and for managing this very challenging bill this evening with such dignity.

This is an important time for us, my colleagues, because we are sending a message to the American people as to who we are. We know each other to be honorable individuals who come here with the best motivation. Our title ``Representative'' is our job description, to represent the people of our districts. We gain respect for each other as we work on issues across the aisle, across the region, across generations in every way, representing the beautiful diversity of our country.

Unfortunately, the American people do not share our view of ourselves here in the Congress and our reputation has received tarnish. Part of that tarnish came from a culture of corruption that preceded the Democratic takeover of this Congress. When I became Speaker of the House, I said it was necessary to drain the swamp that is Washington, D.C. so that the people will understand that we are here for the people's interest and not the special interests.

And so this legislation that is before us today represents what I believe is necessary for us to convey to the American people what we owe them: our best effort to have this Congress live up to the highest ethical standard.

And I know of what I speak because I had the responsibility to serve on the Ethics Committee for 6 years when we took up some terrible issues. The bank scandal, remember that? Many of you weren't here yet, but it was a horrible time. The Newt Gingrich case, it was a horrible time. During that time, as divided as we were, Democrat and Republican, I would pray at night that something exculpatory would come along, something that would say we don't need to continue this case because there is evidence that these charges are not true. It is hard, it is hard to pass judgment on your colleagues. It is very difficult.

And I say that in the most bipartisan way, and we worked together on that committee in a very bipartisan way during some very difficult times.

After 6 years, I thought my service was over; and I had to spend another year on what Mr. Hoyer referenced as the Livingston-Cardin Committee to rewrite the rules. We thought we did a really good job; but, obviously, a review of them some years later said we have to do more.

But that has been the story of ethics in the Congress. Since the Ethics Committee was first created in 1967, the House has set increasingly higher standards of conduct to guide Members because public service is a public trust. As I said, in recent years that trust has been eroded, and we have come here to drain the swamp.

Just last year on the first day of the Congress, the New Direction Congress, the House implemented new and sweeping changes to the gift and travel restrictions. Last September we passed the historic Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, historic lobbying and ethics reform that is now the law of the land.

Today, the New Direction Congress will, for the first time, open the ethics process up to the participation of our fellow citizens, which will make this institution more accountable to the people who sent us here, the American people. I welcome their assistance.

I want to say a word about Mr. Capuano. I want to thank him for his service to our country. In recognizing him, I want to recognize the participation of all of the members, Democrats and Republicans, on the task force, for their service to this House; and I believe there was a good-faith effort made to keep this process as bipartisan as possible. And that is the best you can do. If at the end of the day there is not a willingness to make the reforms necessary to restore the confidence of the American people in the Congress of the United States, then you cannot be held back because some do not want to act.

Mr. Capuano, I believe, led this effort in a way that was bipartisan and sensitive to the institution's history and traditions. And I must say that I received, early on, compliments from his co-Chair, the Republican co-Chair of the committee, about working with Mr. Capuano. He said something like, I am sorry you appointed him because he is very good to work with. That was supposed to be a joke.

In any event, I would like to extend special thanks to him for undertaking this very difficult task, not only in trying to make something that is important work, but also to convince our colleagues that this is the route to take.

Now as I said, I served on the committee under the old rules and I helped write the new rules, and there is always a time to revisit all of it. And there will be a time to revisit these rules as well.

A special thanks to my friend, Mr. DAVID HOBSON, for his work on the task force and for his many years of distinguished service in the Congress. We will miss his thoughtful deliberations and his contributions to our country. Thank you, DAVID HOBSON.

As I mentioned, I served on the Ethics Committee during some very, very difficult times; and I want to extend my deep respect and appreciation to those who serve on this committee now and who have served past and present. Until you have undergone that, until you have undergone that, you cannot really understand how difficult it is. And how happy you are when your term of office ends. But I want to salute them, all of them, past and present, for their important work.

I have deep respect for what Mr. Capuano, striving to work in a bipartisan way, has tried to achieve. Adopting the Capuano Task Force recommendations will provide the public and the House with the assurance that credible, credible allegations of wrongdoing will be addressed by the Ethics Committee in a timely fashion. I emphasize the word ``credible'' because I have no doubt that the main target of this, and who do you think the main target of any outside groups to this group will be? You're looking at her. You are looking at her.

But I am willing to take that risk because I also trust, yes, I also trust, my polite colleagues, I also trust that this group will rid itself of frivolous, baseless complaints and send a message to those who would file repeated frivolous complaints that is their price to pay to do this. I consider this a protection.

It will bring an additional measure of transparency to the ethics enforcement process. It creates this transparency, I think it is important to note, without compromising the House's constitutional prerogatives to discipline its Members without interfering with the work of the Ethics Committee and without altering the substantive rules governing the conduct of the committee's deliberations.

I fully realize that bringing non-Members to this enforcement mechanism is not only a step forward; it is a departure. It is a departure from the traditions of the House.

To those who have those concerns, I pledge that I will work closely with my friend, the Republican leader, Mr. Boehner, to jointly appoint the members of this new Office of Congressional Ethics, fair men and women who understand the importance of nonpartisan behavior and the compelling need to act fairly to protect the interests of the public, the House, and especially the Members.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, I pledge that the House leadership, and I know I heard, listened with great interest to what Mr. Hoyer had to say about this, and thank you, Mr. Hoyer, for your extraordinary leadership on making Congress more accountable and live up to a high ethical standard. Our leadership will closely monitor the work of the new Office of Congressional Ethics and continually review all reasonable proposals intended to guarantee the highest ethical conduct and a more transparent and effective ethics process. Whether they relate to the new panel or the Ethics Committee itself, if additional changes are required, we will propose them.

And since I mentioned Mr. Hoyer's name, I want to associate myself with one of the remarks he made. I thought it was 30 days. Mr. Hoyer said 45 days. But in a very short period of time, according to the proposal that the Republicans are putting forth, in a very short period of time if the Ethics Committee had not disposed of those charges, they would go to the Justice Department. They would go to the Justice Department.

Well, the Ethics Committee is about the rules of the House, about conducting ourselves in a way that brings honor to the House. Many of those issues are not matters for the Justice Department. The Justice Department knows when its jurisdiction should weigh in.

This is about the facts, the rules of the House, and sometimes the law of the land. It's not about hearsay, rumor, suspicion, I thought so, somebody told me. It's about the facts, the rules and the law of the land. That is all that matters. That is all that matters.

I think that this evening this Congress has an opportunity to send a message to the American people, and as we do, each and every one of us does as well. Our votes will speak for themselves. We are willing to take a chance to make a vote on something we might have written differently. And I don't know one bill I've ever voted for that I wouldn't have, something you might have written differently, but something that can strive to remove the doubt that is in the minds of the American people about the integrity of this body.

I hope that you will all join in voting for this. It is worthy of your support. I know that, with my vote, I will be able to say I did everything I could, respecting the work of those who undertook this for practically 1 year to come up with a proposal that was fair, that was effective, and that helped us drain the swamp and say to our bosses, the people who sent us here, we honor you with our service, and we pledge to you that we will always serve in a Congress that upholds the highest ethical standard.

This is an important vote. I urge our colleagues to vote ``aye.'' And I thank Mr. Capuano once again for his extraordinary leadership.


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