Facing backlash from all sides, House Republicans abandoned their plan to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics on Tuesday (3 January) after conducting a secret vote the night before the first day of the 115th Congress. President-elect Donald Trump also commented on the range of issues he believed Republicans should have tackled before moving on the independent panel.

The late-night move on Monday was met with a severe backlash and swift opposition from ethics watchdog groups and Democrats. According to The Washington Post, lawmakers were inundated with calls from angry constituents.

"I can tell you the calls we've gotten in my district office and here in Washington surprised me, meaning the number of calls. People are just sick and tired," North Carolina Congressman Walter B Jones said. "People are just losing confidence in the lack of ethics and honesty in Washington."

The move, which was not endorsed by GOP leaders, also triggered two tweets by the President-elect, who questioned Congress' priorities.

"With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority," Trump said on Twitter. "Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! #DTS" The president-elect was using an abbreviation of his famous campaign line: drain the swamp.

In an emergency meeting of Republican House members in the Capitol basement, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy pointedly asked members if they had campaigned on gutting the ethics office or repealing the Affordable Care Act. Several lawmakers told The Post that the room fell silent after McCarthy's comments.

GOP members agreed by unanimous consent on Tuesday afternoon to withdraw the House rules proposed by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte and approved Monday (2 January) evening. NPR reported that Republican leaders noted the change was distracting from their agenda and needed further vetting.

The proposed changes are far from over. House Ethics Chairwoman Susan Brooks said the ethics committee will review the proposal and will return with any recommendations by late summer or early fall. According to NPR, Democrats did not comment on whether they would participate in a review of the ethics body.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, however, had pointed criticisms for her Republican colleagues. "House Republicans showed their true colours last night," Pelosi said in a statement. She went on to decry "the toxic dysfunction of a Republican House that will do anything to further their special interest agenda, thwart transparency and undermine the public trust".

Paul Ryan
US House Speaker Paul Ryan holds the gavel upon being re-elected on the first day of the new session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington on 3 January 2017 Jonathan Ernst/Reuters