John Katko splits with GOP, votes to protect federal watchdogs after Trump firings

Washington – U.S. Rep. John Katko is among three Republicans who split with the party Tuesday night to pass a bill that helps prevent federal government watchdogs from being fired or stopped from doing their jobs.

The bill to boost the independence of U.S. inspectors general, who have oversight authority of federal agencies, is a response to former president Donald Trump’s firing of four IG’s last year.

House Democrats said the bill is important to prevent future presidents from silencing their critics by firing government watchdogs who challenge them or their administrations.

Trump fired four of the inspectors general in a span of six weeks last year, including Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who had oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Atkinson, a native of Pulaski in Oswego County and a Syracuse University graduate, handled the whistleblower complaint that led to Trump’s first impeachment.

The House voted 221-182 on Tuesday night to pass the IG Independence and Empowerment Act, with all 218 Democrats voting for the bill with the three Republicans.

In addition to Katko, R-Camillus, Reps. Tom Reed, R-Corning, and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., broke ranks with the GOP to vote for the bill.

The House bill would set rules for presidents to remove an inspector general, stating that IG’s could only be removed for cause, such as documented malfeasance.

The bill also gives IG’s the authority to subpoena witnesses who no longer work for the federal government and requires the watchdogs to notify Congress if a federal agency refuses to provide access to information.

Katko said in a statement he views it as a duty of Congress to support the IGs.

“A fundamental role of Congress is to promote accountability within our government and conduct robust oversight over the Executive branch, regardless of party,” Katko said. “It’s critical inspectors general have the ability to pursue any and all instance of government misconduct, fraud, and waste.”

Other House Republicans argued the legislation is an overreach that could constrain presidents from rightfully firing an inspector general. Some Republicans said the subpoena power could be abused for political purposes to make a previous president look bad.

The bill now moves to the evenly split U.S. Senate, where it’s uncertain if enough Republicans will support the measure to send it to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

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