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In symbolic first act, House approves rules that seem to target Collins

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday evening adopted broad new rules governing how it operates — and sanctioning indicted lawmakers such as Rep. Chris Collins, a Clarence Republican.

The new rules, which aim to open up the lawmaking process to more input from committees and individual lawmakers, also mark the new Democratic majority's first attempt at an ethics crackdown.

And that first attempt seemed clearly aimed at Collins, a Clarence Republican charged with felony insider trading, as well as Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican accused of raiding his campaign fund for personal use.

The rules package bars House members from serving on the boards of public corporations — which is just what got Collins in trouble. As a board member of an Australian biotech firm called Innate Immunotherapeutics, he got the bad news that the company's drug trials had failed before the general public did.

And according to federal prosecutors in Manhattan, Collins then told his son Cameron the bad news, setting off a set of insider trades in June 2017.

Rep. Collins and Cameron Collins both stand accused of fraud and conspiracy, as does Stephen Zarsky, Cameron Collins' prospective father-in-law. All three men say they are innocent and plan to fight the charges in court.

In addition, the new House rules bar lawmakers who are indicted from serving on House committees, thereby depriving Collins of one of the central duties of federal lawmakers.

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The new rules also allow evidence at criminal trials to be used in House investigations, increasing the chances that Collins could face additional House sanctions if he is convicted at his February 2020 criminal trial.

The new rules package passed in a 234-197 vote.

Rep. Tom Reed of Corning was one of three Republicans to support the Democratic rules package. Rep. John Katko of Camillus and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania were the others.

Reed backed the compromise because it included two key provisions advocated by the House Problem Solvers Caucus, which he co-chairs. Those measures make it easier for bipartisan legislation to make it to the floor of the House and make it harder for small groups of lawmakers to try to overthrow the speaker.

“This vote isn’t about partisan politics. It is about doing what is right for the American people,” Reed said regarding his vote.

Collins voted against the Democratic rules package. Asked for Collins' thoughts on the Democratic rules on Wednesday, the lawmaker's office did not respond.

Leaders of the new Democratic House plan on unveiling a more far-reaching reform bill Friday morning.

Dubbed "H.R. 1" —  symbolically, the first full bill to be put forth in the new House — the measure creates a plan to offer public financing for congressional campaigns. The wide-ranging legislation also aims to create automatic voter registration, bolster campaign finance reporting requirements, end the partisan shaping of congressional districts and require presidential candidates to release 10 years of their tax returns.

H.R. 1 stands little chance in the Republican-controlled Senate, particularly because the Republican president, Donald J. Trump, has refused to release his tax returns.

But there's plenty of support for it on the left. In fact, about 15 progressive protesters from Organize for Action Western New York and Indivisible showed up at the Buffalo office of Rep. Brian Higgins on Thursday to push for the measure.

One of their signs said "Thanks Brian" because Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, is a strong supporter of the measure.

"It's a good package of comprehensive reform," Higgins said.

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