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House Mandates 1 Hour of Ethics Training for Freshman Class

The freshman class for the 114th Congress must undergo ethics training. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
The freshman class for the 114th Congress must undergo ethics training. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House GOP appears to have had a change of heart on mandatory ethics training for members — at least the newest ones.  

Tucked into the rules package adopted on Tuesday was a provision from Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., that will require the 114th Congress’ freshman class to undergo the same one-hour ethics training that is required for new House staff. The amendment, adopted during a closed-door Republican conference meeting Monday night, will apply to all 58 freshly minted members. House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said it came down to “what is the right thing to do,” when asked if he had evolved from his earlier view that it was not “proper” to add ethics training to the list of requirements for serving in the chamber.  

Last month, as the rules package was being drafted, Sessions said, “We look at the Constitution and say 25 years old, elected, and that’s your obligations,” regarding the proposal from Rigell and Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I. But the intervening time between then and the adoption of the package on Monday night among Republicans and on the floor Tuesday afternoon produced a change in sentiment for the Texas Republican and those shaping the rules.  

“We looked at the huge number of people,” Sessions told CQ Roll Call in a brief interview off the House floor. He calculated that there were a “bunch, so why would we not want to say to them, ‘Go do it.'”  

Though all new staffers must receive ethics training within 60 days of their start date and be refreshed on ethics each year, there is no mandate for veteran House lawmakers to undergo annual ethics training. Unlike staff and officers of the chamber, the freshman class will only have to go through the House Ethics Committee’s training on the Code of Official Conduct and related House rules once. The Senate mandated “ongoing” training for all senators and staff in 2007.  

Rigell teamed up with Cicilline in the last Congress to introduce a bill expanding the training to all members of the House. The pair, both elected in 2010, argued it would be beneficial to the reputation of the institution.  

“A top priority of mine is to change the institution of Congress and, importantly, help restore the public’s faith and trust in Congress,” Rigell said in a statement on the provision. “This new rule is a step in the right direction, and I appreciate House leadership incorporating it into our rules for the new session.”  

Though it’s unclear how Rigell convinced his colleagues of the need for a rules change during the closed-door meeting, it’s likely the pragmatic Republican, who cast a defiant vote on Tuesday for Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida to be speaker, will continue pushing ethics changes. The Ensuring Trust and Honorability In Congressional Standards Act, or ETHICS Act, may be introduced next week. It would make continuing ethics training mandatory for all lawmakers.  

Cicilline also called the training mandate a “step in the right direction,” but noted the new requirement only applies to the 58 new members. “Under the new rules, the vast majority of the House will still not be required to take ethics training,” he stated. “I will continue to fight to expand this requirement to make sure that every single member of the House is required to undergo annual ethics training.”  


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The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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