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First Read’s Morning Clips: House GOP Votes to Weaken Ethics Office

TRUMP AGENDA: House GOP votes to weaken ethics office

From NBC’s Alex Moe: “Just hours before the 115th Congress gavels in, House Republicans voted to weaken the independent ethics office that investigates House lawmakers and staff accused of misconduct. During a closed-door meeting Monday, by a vote of 119 to 74, House Republicans defied their leadership to adopt an amendment by Rep Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to place the Office of Congressional Ethics, known as OCE, under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee. The move effectively gives the ethics oversight and investigative role to the lawmakers themselves and prevents information about investigations from being released to the public.”

More, from the New York Times: “The surprising vote came on the eve of the start of a new session of Congress, where emboldened Republicans are ready to push an ambitious agenda on everything from health care to infrastructure, issues that will be the subject of intense lobbying from corporate interests. The House Republicans’ move would take away both power and independence from an investigative body, and give lawmakers more control over internal inquiries.”

POLITICO, on the oversight changes: “The vote to declaw the OCE was orchestrated by several members who felt they had been wrongfully accused of unethical behavior by the OCE, according to several sources in the room. The sources said several members currently or formerly under the OCE's microscope stood up to support the pitch, which was eventually adopted by a vote of 119 to 74.”

Leigh Ann Caldwell lays out the aggressive conservative agenda that awaits Congress as lawmakers return to Washington.

The Washington Post notes that Obamacare doesn’t look set for a swift demise: “Democratic opposition and complex Senate rules mean that core pieces of the 2010 health-care overhaul are likely to remain, including the legal framework for the individual mandate and pieces of the state exchanges the law created. Furthermore, President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to preserve other key aspects, such as a ban on insurers denying coverage because of preexisting conditions and a requirement that insurers cover children under 26 on their parents’ plans. And while Republicans are determined to rapidly repeal as much of Obamacare as they can, they have not settled on a replacement plan or on when that plan should take effect.”

“An early look at the GOP's plans shows that they will be pushing the idea that "universal access" to health insurance is better than mandatory "universal coverage," which has been the foundation of Obamacare,” writes POLITICO. “It sounds like a subtle rhetorical distinction, but reflects a critical difference in the Republican vision of health care that emphasizes less generous coverage to drive down insurance costs. If they can't sell voters on the concept, the repeal and overhaul of Obamacare could become a damaging episode for the new administration.”

TRUMP TRANSITION WATCH: Lighthizer for trade representative

Robert Lighthizer is Trump’s pick for U.S. Trade Representative, Kristen Welker and Hallie Jackson report.

Trump is criticizing China over North Korea’s nuclear program, tweeting: “China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won't help with North Korea. Nice!”

The New York Times looks at the efforts of Gen. James Mattis to halt the use of torture.

The Washington Post offers a good explanation of how a Trump administration will change the speed of controversial Israeli settlements.

“Tensions within the Republican Party over how to handle Russia are becoming increasingly public as the Senate prepares for confirmation hearings on President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state and presses ahead with a review of alleged Russian cyberattacks during the 2016 election. At the heart of the intraparty split over Russia—which pits GOP lawmakers like Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham against Mr. Trump and his national security adviser designate, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn—is disagreement over a basic question: How much danger does President Vladimir Putin’s Russia pose to the U.S.?” writes the Wall Street Journal.

The Washington Post is walking back a report indicating that Russian hackers targeted a Vermont utility.

DEM WATCH: How Chuck Schumer will differ from Harry Reid

POLITICO examines how Chuck Schumer’s leadership will be different from Harry Reid’s.