After a hard-fought election, Democrat Salud Carbajal was finally sworn in as the congressman for California’s 24th District Jan. 3 in Washington, D.C.
But the day held far more than just the pomp and circumstance of swearing in new members of Congress. Overshadowing the ceremony was a botched attempt by Republican members of the House of Representatives to eliminate the Office of Congressional Ethics (OEC), an independent oversight body.
Plans to hobble the OEC came after Republican House members met Jan. 2 and voted to attach provisions gutting the investigative body to larger House rules resolution for the incoming 115th Congress. But as news of the possible changes spread the following day, many members of Congress were slammed with phone calls and emails from angry constituents demanding they vote against the measure.
The move against the OEC even prompted a tweet from President-elect Donald Trump, who chastised the members for making it their “number one act priority,” though he appeared to agree with some Republican House members that the office might be “unfair.”
Congressional Republicans quickly abandoned their plans to gut the OEC after a meeting on the morning of Jan. 4.
But even after the changes to the OEC were nixed, Carbajal, along with nearly every other Democrat in Congress, voted against the resolution adopting the rules for the new session. In a statement issued shortly after the vote, Carbajal indicated that his opposition to the resolution stemmed from newly included sanctions for unauthorized video streaming from the House floor.
“I was disappointed that my first vote this Congress was against the rules package that now limits free speech and fines members for recording video while on the House floor,” Carbajal said.
The new rules come after a several Democratic members of the previous Congress staged a sit-in on the House floor in June to protest the legislative body’s inaction on the issue of gun violence. Several members streamed live video of the protest even after the House cameras were turned off.
The new rules will fine members who use an electronic device to record unauthorized audio, video, or still photographs. The fines were set at $500 for the first violation, and $2,500 for subsequent violations.
“This rules change will not silence me from speaking out against any attempt to limit access to affordable health care, to roll back environmental protections or to promote policies that restrict economic growth for the middle class,” Carbajal said.
Despite the objections from Democrats like Carbajal, the rules resolution passed on a 234-193 votes. Carbajal was one of 51 congressional freshmen sworn in Jan. 3.