Republicans in the House have voted to weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), the body that investigates claims of misconduct against members of Congress.
Under the change, the independent OCE would come under the control of the House Ethics Committee.
Republican leaders in the House had opposed the change. The newly elected Congress meets later and the full House will vote on the proposed new rules.
However, Democrats reacted angrily to the vote.
The proposals, tabled in an amendment to House rules by Congressman Bob Goodlatte, would weaken the OCE’s oversight of matters such as conflicts of interests and financial impropriety.
If the new rules package is voted in – as is likely as the Republicans have a clear majority – the OCE would be renamed the Office of Congressional Complaint Review.
Under the proposals the new body would no longer be able to receive anonymous tip-offs, nor have a spokesperson, and would be under the supervision of the House Ethics Committee. Accusations against lawmakers would not be made public, as they are currently.
Any referral to law enforcement agencies would have to be approved by members of the committee.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, said the amendment to the rules would effectively destroy the OCE.
She said in a statement: “Republicans claim they want to <<drain the swamp>>, but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP [Republican Party] has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions.
“Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”
During his election campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly vowed to “drain the swamp” of Washington politics, claiming the federal government was corrupt and dysfunctional. He has not commented on the proposals for the ethics body.
While House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy were reportedly opposed to the amendment, Rep. Bob Goodlatte – chair of a House committee – introduced it anyway.
Rank and file members voted to support it in a closed session of the House Republican Conference.
There was no advance notice of the move, which came late on a federal public holiday.
The Office of Congressional Ethics was created in 2008 after a series of embarrassing scandals, including one involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff who was jailed for conspiracy and fraud.
Some felt that the House Ethics Committee had previously been held back from investigating wrongdoing by fellow members of the House of Representatives.
Nancy Pelosi – then leader of a Democrat-controlled House – spearheaded the efforts to reform oversight of Congress and shed light on the often murky world of Washington lobbying after the Abramoff scandal.
After their success in November’s elections, Republicans will control both houses in the new session of the US Congress.
Once Donald Trump is inaugurated on January 20, the GOP will control both Congress and the presidency for the first time since 2007.
According to the US constitution, “each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings”, so at the start of each new Congress, the House of Representatives has to approve its own rules and regulations.
The Congress has been blocked by a Democrat protest over a vote on gun control legislation.
The Democrats’ sit-in comes in the wake of the recent shootings in Orlando, the deadliest in modern US history.
Republican Speaker Paul Ryan tried to regain control of the lower house but was met with chants of “no bill, no break!”
The Republicans switched off the House TV cameras but Democrats continued to feed live pictures via their phones.
The transmissions, broadcast by the C-Span network, technically break House rules, but one Democrat representative, Scott Peters, who provided a feed via the Periscope app, said the sit-in was breaking rules anyway.
The Democrats’ protest follows the gun attack on June 12, when a man claiming allegiance to ISIS, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people at the Pulse club in Orlando, Florida.
On June 22, some 168 House Democrats – out of 188 – and 34 senators – out of 44 – were on the floor.
As the protest reached its 10th hour, Paul Ryan tried to restore control with a recess, and then a return to voting on other legislative business.
Paul Ryan banged his gavel and tried to ignore the outbursts but amid Democrat shouts of “Shame! Shame!” he left the podium.
Democrats began singing “We shall overcome” and held up the names of gun attack victims.
The floor of the House became chaotic, with Republicans and Democrats shouting at each other.
Some Democratic representatives brought in sleeping bags, pillow and blankets, others doughnuts for colleagues.
Outside Congress, several hundred gun-control advocates gathered to voice support for the Democrats, shouting “hold the floor” and “do your job”.
A motion for a brief adjournment was passed at about 01:30 local time and the House then resumed at 02:30, with the majority Republicans hoping to vote on a bill on the Zika virus and then adjourn fully to July 5.
The sit-in is being led by congressman John Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
President Barack Obama took to Twitter to thank John Lewis “for leading on gun violence where we need it most”.
Paul Ryan dismissed the protest as a publicity stunt.
He told CNN he would not bring a gun control vote in the House of Representatives.
“They know that we will not bring a bill that takes away a person’s constitutionally guaranteed rights without… due process,” Paul Ryan said.
Some senators are pushing for a compromise, with top Democratic Senator Harry Reid supporting a Republican proposal.
Harry Reid said he supported new legislation proposed by Republican Senator Susan Collins that would stop gun sales to a limited number of people who are on some terrorism watch lists.
The bill is due to come before the Senate on June 23.
John Boehner will resign from his position as speaker of the House and give up his seat at the end of October.
He has been under pressure from the conservative wing of the Republican Party, and in particular over government funding for Planned Parenthood.
Aides say John Boehner had planned to resign since 2014.
The announcement comes one day after the speaker hosted Pope Francis for a major address to the US Congress.
John Boehner is expected to make a public announcement at 10:30 local time.
He assumed the leadership position in January 2011, when Republicans took control of the House.
John Boehner’s resignation comes as Republicans have been deliberating over plans to defund women’s healthcare provider Planned Parenthood.
The organization has come under fire from anti-abortion activists who claimed its employees were selling fetal organs.
Hard-line conservatives have urged the leadership to stall a government funding bill – a move that could see the US government shut down next week for the second time in as many years – if language defunding the healthcare provider is not included.
Reuters is reporting that Rep Steve King has told reporters that Rep Kevin McCarthy is top pick to replace John Boehner as speaker.
Rep Bill Huizenga said in a tweet that the speaker made the announcement to his conference this morning.
In a statement, John Boehner’s staff said that he had intended to resign at the end of last year, but the surprise defeat of then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor “changed that calculation”.
On September 24, Pope Francis became the first pontiff to address a joint session of Congress following an invitation from the catholic House speaker.
President Barack Obama has dismissed a speech by Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu that castigated his policy towards Iran.
In a speech to the US Congress, Benjamin Netanyahu warned that a deal under discussion on Iran’s nuclear program could “pave Iran’s path to the bomb” rather than block it.
Barack Obama said Benjamin Netanyahu had offered no viable alternative.
Other senior Democrats – and Iran – also criticized Benjamin Netanyahu.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit was controversial from the start, because Republican speaker John Boehner invited him without consulting the White House.
President Barack Obama announced he would not meet Benjamin Netanyahu, who is fighting in a closely contested national election in just two weeks’ time.
Talks on Iran’s nuclear program are nearing a critical late-March deadline for an outline agreement to be reached.
In a speech to the Congress regularly punctuated by standing ovations Benjamin Netanyahu depicted Iran as a “threat to the entire world”.
He insisted Iran had proven time and time again that it could not be trusted.
Benjamin Netanyahu went on to criticize the likely contours of the deal currently being negotiated in Switzerland, where Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met Secretary of State John Kerry on March 3.
“We’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal,” he said.
“Well this is a bad deal, a very bad deal, We’re better off without it.”
Benjamin Netanyahu said it relied heavily on international monitoring, when Iran “plays a pretty good game of <<hide and cheat>> with UN inspectors”.
The Israeli prime minister received a rapturous reception for his speech, but dozens of Democrats – including Vice President Joe Biden – stayed away.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi at times refused to clap and later issued a statement saying Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech had been an “insult to the intelligence of the United States” that had left her near tears.
Barack Obama said he had been unable to watch the speech as it was given, but found “nothing new” when he read the transcript.
“The alternative that the prime minister offers is <<no deal>>, in which case Iran will immediately begin once again pursuing its nuclear program, accelerate its nuclear program without us having any insight into what they are doing and without constraint,” he said.
The president said sanctions alone were not sufficient without offering Iran an alternative path.
Other Democrats criticized the speech, with Representative John Yarmuth calling it “straight out of the Dick Cheney playbook – fear mongering at its worst”.
Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign ministry said Benjamin Netanyahu’s words were “boring and repetitive”, Fars news agency reported.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said the “Iranophobic” speech was a “deceitful show and part of the election campaign of Tel Aviv’s hardliners”.
The US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China are seeking to reach agreement to curtail Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
They fear Iran has ambitions to build a nuclear bomb – something Iran denies, insisting it is merely exercising its right to peaceful nuclear power.
Negotiators are currently working towards a late-March deadline for an outline agreement with Iran, which would be followed by a detailed deal by the end of June.
The US Department of Homeland Security has avoided a partial shutdown as Congress passed a one-week funding extension, hours before a midnight deadline.
The House voted 357-60 in favor of the short-term bill after it had been passed in the Senate.
President Barack Obama, who said he would back a short-term deal to avert a shutdown, signed it shortly afterwards.
It ensures the department’s 250,000 employees will be paid while a longer-term funding agreement is discussed.
The two-thirds majority vote was reached about two hours before the midnight deadline.
Earlier, Republicans had rejected a similar three-week extension after provisions against President Barack Obama’s immigration plan were dropped.
The one-week deal was backed by a majority of Democrats despite many of them voting against the earlier bill in the hope that a longer-term deal could be agreed.
The move came shortly after President Barack Obama had spoken by phone to Democratic leaders in a bid to avert the partial department closure.
The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for securing US borders, airports and coastal waters.
About 200,000 “essential” department employees would have continued to work without pay if the agency’s funding had not been secured.
Some Republicans had wanted to use the funding of the department, which includes immigration officials, as a bargaining chip to force President Barack Obama to end policies on immigration.
In November 2014, Barack Obama used his executive powers to protect about five million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Republicans say President Barack Obama overstepped his powers in doing so.
A separate ruling by a federal judge has blocked those policies from starting while a lawsuit by more than two dozen states goes forward.
Some Republicans senators had expressed a desire to fight the executive actions in the courts, rather than threaten the department’s funding.
On February 26, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson urged Congress to pass full funding.
“A short-term continuing resolution exacerbates the uncertainty for my workforce and puts us back in the same position, on the brink of a shutdown just days from now,” Jeh Johnson said.
Last week, the White House said President Barack Obama would prefer a full funding bill but would sign a short-term measure to prevent a shutdown.
John Boehner has survived a House rebellion by winning a third term as House speaker after Republicans took control of both chambers for the first time in eight years.
Twenty five Republicans voted against him.
At the top of the Republican agenda is approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which was the first bill introduced.
Republicans won a majority in the Senate during November’s mid-term election.
They already controlled the House of Representatives.
They have been angered by recent unilateral actions by President Barack Obama including an executive action on immigration policy and a major shift in US policy on Cuba.
Photo AFP/Getty Images
Both chambers convened at midday, as required by the US constitution, after an early morning storm that left the capital city covered in snow.
“Hard work awaits,” said the new Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.
“I’m really optimistic about what we can accomplish.”
During prepared remarks on January 6, John Boehner said he wanted Barack Obama to work with Republicans on bills that have stalled in recent years.
He also criticized unnamed fellow representatives for “shadow boxing and show business”.
The first bill to be introduced was the approval for Keystone XL, a controversial oil pipeline extension on hold for years.
It may have enough support to pass a procedural hurdle in the Senate but on Tuesday, the White House has said Barack Obama would veto the legislation if it came to his desk.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the legislation undermined a “well-established” review process and did not take into account a lawsuit still pending in the state of Nebraska over the pipeline’s route.
President Barack Obama has used his power of veto twice in his six years as president, but has said he expects to use it more now that both chambers are controlled by Republicans.
Republicans are also set to take on Barack Obama’s immigration policy changes through a funding fight, legislation to repeal or defund the health law often referred to as “ObamaCare”, and fast-track a Pacific trade deal.
Congressmen who are against President Barack Obama’s new Cuba policy have threatened to block his efforts to restore diplomatic relations after 50 years of hostility.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio promised on CNN to block the nomination of any US ambassador to Cuba.
Other anti-Castro legislators suggested Congress would removing funding for any normalized ties with the country.
US-Cuban ties have been frozen since the early 1960s – a policy of isolation Barack Obama condemned as a failure.
On December 17, President Barack Obama said it was time for a new approach.
As part of the deal, US contractor Alan Gross, 65, and an unnamed intelligence officer loyal to the US were released from Cuban prison in return for three Cubans held in the US.
The US will now seek to set up an embassy in Cuba, expand US visitors to Cuba, open up banking and increase caps on how much cash Cubans can post to relatives on to the island.
Only Congress has the power to end the full trade embargo, and with many Republicans deeply opposed to such a change, correspondents say it is unlikely to happen soon.
Among those opposed to restoring diplomatic relations was Democratic Senator Robert Menendez who said he was “deeply disappointed”.
“It’s a fallacy to believe that Cuba will reform because an American president opens his hands and the Castro brothers will suddenly unclench their fists.”
Fellow Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, said he would be among those trying to pass legislation to undercut funding for policy changes, including setting up an embassy.
“Normalizing relations with Cuba is a bad idea at a bad time,” tweeted Lindsey Graham, who will become chairman of a committee that determines state department funding in January.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio slammed the deal as “inexplicable”.
“Appeasing the Castro brothers will only cause other tyrants from Caracas to Tehran to Pyongyang to see that they can take advantage of President Obama’s naiveté during his final two years in office,” Marci Rubio said in a statement.
Marco Rubio told CNN on Wednesday he reserved the right “to do everything within the rules of the Senate to prevent that sort of individual from ever even coming up for a vote,” referring to the confirmation process for ambassadors in relation to Cuba.
Their objections mirror the concerns of some dissident Cubans living in the US.
“It is a betrayal. The talks are only going to benefit Cuba,” Carlos Munoz Fontanil said at a protest in Miami’s Calle Ocho.
Meanwhile, other world leaders have welcomed the move.
Leading the praise, Pope Francis sent “warm congratulations” to Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro for overcoming “the difficulties which have marked their recent history”.
The announcement followed more than a year of secret talks in Canada and at the Vatican, directly involving the pontiff.
The EU, which is in the process of normalizing ties with Cuba, described the move as a “historical turning point”, while leaders meeting at a Latin America summit in Argentina broke into applause at the news.
Canadian PM Stephen Harper, whose country never broke off ties with Cuba, welcomed what he called the “overdue development”.
Officials said that Barack Obama and Raul Castro spoke by telephone on December 16 for nearly an hour – the first presidential-level talks between the two nations since Cuba’s 1959 revolution.
In exchange for Alan Gross, who was in poor health, and the unnamed intelligence officer, Washington released three members of the so-called “Cuban Five” who were serving lengthy sentences for espionage.
Alan Gross’s five-year imprisonment had undermined previous attempts to thaw diplomatic relations between the two countries.
According to Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, President Barack Obama has told Congressional leaders he does not need lawmakers’ approval for any action in Iraq.
Senator Mitch McConnell was speaking after a meeting between President Barack Obama and senior members of Congress.
Iraq has asked for US air strikes against advancing jihadist militants, who have seized key cities and towns.
However, correspondents say any decision on military support from Washington could hinge on political changes in Iraq.
Vice-President Joe Biden discussed possible “additional measures” that could help “roll back the terrorists’ advances” with Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki on Wednesday, but also the need for national unity.
The Obama administration has shown signs of frustration with Nouri al-Maliki – a Shia Muslim who has long been accused of discriminating against the Sunni Arab minority community and monopolizing power.
President Barack Obama has told Congressional leaders he does not need lawmakers’ approval for any action in Iraq
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a congressional hearing: “This current government in Iraq has never fulfilled the commitments it made to bring a unity government together with the Sunnis, the Kurds, and the Shia.”
Barack Obama met Congressional leaders at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the US response to recent advances by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
Speaking afterwards, Senator Mitch McConnell said the president had “indicated he didn’t feel he had any need for authority from us for steps that he might take”.
Correspondents say the White House has so far avoided the thorny question as to whether it needs Congressional authority for any military action in Iraq.
Experts say Barack Obama has several options, including citing the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against al-Qaeda and its associated forces passed by Congress in 2001; the 2002 AUMF that led to the invasion of Iraq; and his own powers as commander-in-chief.
Last year, President Barack Obamaabandoned plans for punitive military strikes in Syria following a deadly chemical weapons attack once it became clear that Congress would not give its backing.
Administration officials say the president may be able to act unilaterally in Iraq because its government has requested US air strikes against ISIS, which seized the second city of Mosul last week and is advancing southwards towards Baghdad.
ISIS and their Sunni Arab allies are reported to be advancing in Diyala and Salahuddin provinces after they overran Iraq’s second city, Mosul, last week.
They have also launched an assault on Iraq’s biggest oil refinery at Baiji, north of Baghdad.
The administration has not officially responded to Iraq’s request for air support in its response to the offensive.
The FBI is to face questions in the US Congress over whether they mishandled information about Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
The security officials will brief the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed hearing, after some lawmakers accused the FBI of failing to act on Russian concerns.
Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was questioned in 2011 amid claims he had adopted radical Islam.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a manhunt after the attack but his wounded brother Dzhokhar has been charged over the bombings.
Federal prosecutors charged Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in hospital with using a weapon of mass destruction and malicious destruction of property resulting in death. He could be sentenced to death if convicted on either count.
Anonymous officials have told US media that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev said he and his brother had planned the attack themselves without help from foreign militants.
The officials say his written answers from his hospital bed to investigators’ questions lead them to believe that the Tsarnaev brothers were motivated by jihadist ideology and that they devised the bombings using the internet.
However, the sources also said the interviews were preliminary and they must verify the defendant’s responses.
The FBI is to face questions in the US Congress over whether they mishandled information about Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev
Both Tsarnaev brothers had origins in the troubled, predominantly Muslim republic of Chechnya in southern Russia. They had been living in the US for about a decade at the time of the attack.
The twin bombs which exploded near the finishing line of the Boston Marathon killed three people and injured more than 200.
Of those injured, 13 lost limbs. More than 50 people remain in hospital, three of them in a critical condition.
Members of Congress want to know why no further action was taken after Tamerlan Tsarnaev was investigated in 2011 at the request of the Russian government.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the intelligence committee, said that she and her colleagues would have to “sort it out” when they met FBI officials later on Tuesday.
The full Senate is expected to receive a briefing later in the week.
The FBI has defended itself, saying in a statement on Friday that it had run checks on the suspect but found no evidence of terrorist activity.
A request to Russia for further information to justify more rigorous checks went unanswered, and an interview by agents with Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his family also revealed nothing suspicious.
However, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham questioned why the FBI was unable to identify him as a threat based on his alleged links to radical websites.
He called for better co-operation with Russia and the amendment of privacy laws to allow closer scrutiny of suspects’ internet activity.
Senator Lindsey Graham added that the US authorities did not know Tamerlan Tsarnaev had gone to Russia in 2012 because his name was misspelled in travel documents.
The suspect spent six months in Dagestan, another mainly Muslim Russian republic bordering Chechnya. During the visit, he also reportedly spent two days in Chechnya itself.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed during the police manhunt last Friday. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was captured later that day and remains in hospital with serious injuries.
A 10-page criminal complaint was filed against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Monday during a court hearing held around his hospital bed.
According to a transcript of the hearing, he managed to speak once despite a gunshot wound to his throat sustained during his capture.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev said the word “no” when asked if he could afford a lawyer. Otherwise he nodded in response to Judge Marianne Bowler’s questions from his bed at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
The next hearing in his case has been scheduled for the end of May.
The complaint seeks to locate both suspects at the scene of the bombing and then pieces together the operation to intercept them three days later, as they allegedly drove a hijacked car near the city, hours after images of their faces were broadcast by the media.
No mention is made of their possible reasons for attacking the marathon.
US Congress questions for the FBI:
Why was no further action taken after the 2011 investigation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev?
Why Tamerlan Tsarnaev was not identified as a threat based on links to radical websites?
Why were the authorities unaware of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s visit to Russia in 2012?
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