Rep. Bob Goodlatte saw his plan to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics sail through a closed-door meeting of the Republican caucus Monday night, only to be upended 19 hours later after public outcry and two critical tweets from president-elect Donald J. Trump.
Goodlatte, the 13-term Republican congressman from Virginia, declined a request Tuesday to discuss his proposal at the center of an embarrassing day for Republicans, who had hoped to display unity as the 115th Congress convened but instead found themselves caught in chaotic discord over the ethics proposal.
Goodlatte’s plan to remake the ethics office, stripping it of its independence and ability to investigate anonymous claims, was applauded by some conservatives. But it was widely panned by Democrats and government watchdogs and, after criticism from Trump, GOP lawmakers backed away from it.
A terse statement released by Goodlatte’s office Tuesday suggests he is sticking by his assertion that his proposed changes would have strengthened due process for lawmakers accused of ethical lapses.
“Gross misrepresentation by opponents of my amendment, and the media willing to go along with this agenda, resulted in a flurry of misconceptions and unfounded claims about the true purpose of this amendment,” he said in a statement.
Friends and colleagues say Goodlatte’s dedication to his beliefs — unpopular though they may be — have long defined him.
As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Goodlatte has played a central role in some of the most contentious debates in Congress, from criminal justice and immigration reform to internet sales tax and intellectual property law.
“Bob’s always been powerful. It’s just people haven’t been paying attention,” his longtime friend Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) said.
Up to the eve of the election, Goodlatte maintained pressure on FBI Director James Comey to answer questions about Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Goodlatte, the most senior Republican in the Virginia congressional delegation, is known as a serious student of policy in Washington who keeps a close watch over state and local GOP politics.
President-elect Donald Trump easily carried his district, which stretches from the Shenandoah Valley to the Roanoke Valley and east to Lynchburg, the home of Liberty University.
Goodlatte, 64, is a devout Christian Scientist who hosts an annual Super Bowl Party at his home south of Roanoke, loves the Red Sox and aims to visit the homes of all the presidents, friends say. The father of two recently became a grandfather for the first time, softening him a bit, they say.
“A straight arrow,” his former law partner, Donald W. Huffman, said. “He loves his wife. He’s honest. He’s truthful.”
State Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Rockingham) praised Goodlatte’s lack of pretention and said he is motivated to fundamentally change the way government works.
But he noted, “I probably would not pick Bob as the guy I would go out and have a couple of beers with.”
The son of a manager of Friendly’s restaurants in Massachusetts, Goodlatte studied government at Bates College in Maine and earned a law degree from Washington and Lee University School of Law.
He ran for Congress in 1992 — with the help of Tim Phillips, now president of Americans for Prosperity — on a promise to serve only 12 years. He has since abandoned the pledge, saying everyone must agree to term limits for the policy to work.
Goodlatte was chairman of the Agriculture Committee before leading the Judiciary Committee. He rejected separate calls from within his party to try to impeach President Barack Obama and the IRS commissioner, saying there was insufficient evidence.
In his reelection bid last year, his Democratic opponent accused him of a conflict of interest because his wife owns stock in Roanoke Gas Company, and sits on its board of the company, which could benefit from an interstate pipeline under federal review.
Goodlatte’s top donors include Comcast, Facebook, the National Association of Broadcasters and Google parent company Alphabet, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks giving.
Griffith, the Republican congressman from Virginia, said Goodlatte plans to continue pressing for changes to the ethics office despite push back.
Whether he’s successful, “time will tell,” he said.
One of Goodlatte’s amendments did pass in a rules package.
Starting at 10 a.m. Thursday on the House floor, he will lead members in a recitation of the U.S. Constitution.