Chaffetz on Oversight: More Results, Less Confrontation

Chaffetz will take over Oversight. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Chaffetz will take over Oversight. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted July 22, 2014 at 5:00am

In the past 89 years, there have been four members of Congress who became committee chairmen in their fourth term. Rep. Jason Chaffetz is trying to become the fifth.  

Chaffetz hasn’t even banked six full years in the House yet. But with Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa term-limited after this session, the 47-year-old Utah Republican is making a bid to head the chamber’s most powerful investigatory panel.  

Like his top rival for the gavel , Michael Turner of Ohio, Chaffetz says he wants to move Oversight in a new direction. But Chaffetz, like Issa, still wants to go “full throttle” on the executive branch.  

“I’m very grateful to Darrell Issa,” Chaffetz told CQ Roll Call. “He’s been very good to me, he’s given me a great opportunity, but we’d all do things a little bit differently.” Under a Chaffetz chairmanship, the committee would “of course” finish its current investigations. And there would be a “whole other set of investigations” to take up, he said.  

But under his leadership, Chaffetz sees the committee’s Republicans and Democrats interacting in a less confrontational manner.  

“I want people to have respect for the congressional role that it has in overseeing the executive branch,” Chaffetz said. “That shouldn’t be so personal.”  

Chaffetz is already trying to build a less partisan relationship with the ranking Democrat on the committee, Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland. Chaffetz actually visited Cummings’ district , which was depicted in the gritty HBO drama “The Wire,” and he said Republicans would do their “very best” to work with Democrats on the panel if he were chairman.  

That’s a bit of a change from the reign of Issa, who has issued more than 90 subpoenas without approval from Democrats and who notoriously cut off Cummings’ microphone during a hearing with former IRS official Lois Lerner .  

Chaffetz said the cut mic incident “should have never happened.”  

“There’s a general principle of equal time, and that shouldn’t be violated,” he said.  

But Chaffetz isn’t exactly the anti-Issa in the race to become the next chairman. Anyone who has seen him on the Oversight Committee knows he can calmly but forcefully ask a witness a question — and, much like Issa, Chaffetz has little problem attacking Democrats  when he disagrees on an issue.  

Chaffetz said there’s a “media strategy” that necessarily goes along with being Oversight chairman, and he has the experience to execute that strategy.  

He’s been a regular on cable news — “Not just Fox News,” he notes — and he has been on all five of the major Sunday morning talk shows.  

But more than being a partisan cudgel, more than just conducting investigations, Chaffetz said the committee needs to institute change and work to fix the problems it uncovers.  

“And I’ve done that,” he said, noting that he’s had a number of bills passed in the House.  

Chaffetz recognizes his relative inexperience could hurt him in his bid against Turner and Rep. John L. Mica of Florida to be the next Oversight chairman. But he doesn’t see himself as a long shot by any stretch.  

“I wish they would vote right now here today,” Chaffetz said of the Steering Committee. “I think I would be in great shape.”  

In what might have been a subtle shot at Turner, Chaffetz noted that this wasn’t a position he started seeking yesterday. “It’s something I’ve been doing for the past couple years,” he said. “I have not feigned any interest in this race.”  

Chaffetz said Oversight and Government Reform has been his No. 1 committee choice for years. “Nobody else can say that,” he said, noting that Turner has served in recent years as a member of the Armed Services Committee and as the chairman of the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee.  

But Chaffetz insisted his campaign to become chairman wasn’t about comparing himself with Turner.  

“Look: I’m not running against Mike Turner,” Chaffetz said. “I think he’s a good guy, and he’s got a lot to offer. I just feel like if I play my A-game, the Steering Committee will see fit to have me be the chairman.”  

“The difference is,” Chaffetz continued, “I have been wholly focused on Oversight and Government Reform since Day 1.”  

Turner does have one important advantage over Chaffetz: his home state. The greatest ally one can have on the Steering Committee is Speaker John A. Boehner, who has five votes and just happens to be from Ohio. “The speaker’s very important to this process,” Chaffetz said. “No doubt about it.”  

But Boehner is likely to stay out of the race, at least publicly, and that gives Chaffetz the chance to show his colleagues he’s worthy of the gavel — something he’s been trying to do by campaigning and fundraising for fellow Republicans.  

Chaffetz’s media campaign has made him a bit of a GOP rock star, particularly because he has been on the front lines of the Benghazi investigation as the chairman of the Oversight subcommittee with jurisdiction over the investigation.  

The Mormon lawmaker looks younger than his age suggests, and as a former placekicker at Brigham Young University, he has plenty of team cliches at his disposal.  

Chaffetz noted that “the very nature of Oversight [is] you’re playing in somebody else’s sandbox,” and he said his time on the Judiciary, Budget and Homeland Security committees had given him the experience needed to effectively run one of the House’s high-profile panels.  

“I want to run on my record, not just a tally of how many years,” he said, noting that he had served as the chairman of two Oversight subcommittees and was once even a ranking member.  

Chaffetz said that when he was a freshman, then-Minority Leader Boehner told him that after he’d been here for a year, he’d know what he’s good at and what interests him. “I knew I liked Oversight before, now that I’ve been here for a while, it’s clear this is what I like,” Chaffetz said. “This is what I do.”