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Bipartisan Pair Volunteers to Get Schooled on House Ethics

Cicilline, right, teamed up with Rigell to attend an ethics training workshop. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

On the heels of Rep. Aaron Schock's resignation announcement , two of the Illinois Republican's House colleagues paid a timely visit to the congressional ethics police.  

Reps. Scott Rigell, R-Va., and David Cicilline, D-R.I., made a Monday afternoon appointment with House Ethics Committee staff to get schooled on congressional ethics, taking advantage of what Cicilline described as a "natural time" to think about the rules governing the behavior of members and how those rules are enforced. "Frankly, how do we reassure the public that we take these responsibilities seriously in the face of ethics violations?" Cicilline asked on an elevator ride from Rigell's Cannon office to the Longworth headquarters of the Ethics Committee. "This is a moment where we also have a responsibility to our constituents back home and to people all across this country to prove, in actions, that we take these ethical responsibilities seriously, and passing this bill would be one way to do it."  

The bipartisan duo has renewed its push for a measure that would mandate members of the House undergo the same hour long annual ethics training that senators and Hill staffers must complete. It picked up 26 co-sponsors on the day Schock announced his exit — but still appears to be a long shot with House leadership.  

Rigell talked the Republican conference into incorporating a small compromise into the House rules package. The January resolution required the 58 members of the 114th Congress’ freshman class to undergo the same one-hour ethics training that is required for new House staff. But they are only trained once, not on an annual basis, as the bill would require.  

"It grieves me when I see a member, you know, get off the rails, because it hurts the institution," Rigell said when asked by CQ Roll Call if the controversy surrounding Schock helped make the case for the legislation. "Of course the person is hurt, and I don't like to see that."  

Both lawmakers, elected to Congress in 2010, agreed they would never presume ethics training would eliminate the problem of members of Congress behaving badly. But they believe mandating it would help the reputation of the institution, and framed what could cynically be viewed as a publicity stunt as an attempt to lead by example.  

"It will make us better advocates with our colleagues when we say, 'You know, we're talking about one hour a year. We did it. This is what we learned. It was worthwhile,'" Cicilline said.  

Cicilline and Rigell emerged from the Ethics office shortly before 3 p.m., after approximately 55 minutes with committee staff. Both men clutched thick red manuals, pink sheets explaining how to interpret the rules and pocket-sized members' handbooks. Cicilline held a legal pad scribbled with notes, while Rigell tucked a letter-sized sheet of paper he used for jotting down commentary into his lapel pocket.  

"It affirmed for me, not just the value of annual training, but I believe the necessity of it," Rigell said. "It's complex. It's layered. ... You've got your personal life, the campaign and the congressional service. These things kind of intersect. They just do, they overlap."  

Between the House Administration Committee, the Federal Election Commission and congressional rules and federal laws, there is some overlap, but the authorities are not always perfectly aligned, they explained.  

Cicilline said he did not find "obvious answers" to his questions. "We only got through the beginning of this agenda, so we're going to come back, but I think it really does reaffirm my belief that annual ethics training would be very valuable to our colleagues — to us, and to our colleagues."  

The second round is set for April 13, and the bipartisan pair is inviting their co-sponsoring colleagues to come along.  

Related: Could Aaron Schock Really End Up in Jail? House Mandates 1 Hour of Ethics Training for Freshman Class Schock Fallout: Rules Subject to Interpretation The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.