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House Republicans praise Democrats’ subpoena restraint (so far)

Restraint on subpoenas and office space politics engendered bipartisanship early this week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Restraint on subpoenas and office space politics engendered bipartisanship early this week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Subpoenas and office space, so often the source of lawmaker squabbles, engendered some bipartisanship this week, including kind words from Republicans to Democrats about how they’re running the House.

On Monday night Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, newly installed ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter praising Democratic Chairman Jerrold Nadler for his leadership of the panel.

“The Judiciary Committee entered a new era of bipartisanship under your leadership,” wrote Collins to Nadler. “I want to thank you for agreeing to an unprecedented level of transparency, a commitment that will serve the American people well. Working together, we can conduct robust oversight and investigations in the light of day, where our fellow citizens can observe this committee’s work and weigh its merits.”

The letter focused on Nadler’s expression of respect for the powerful tool of congressional subpoenas and agreement between the lawmakers that they should be used judiciously. Collins liked that Nadler said that the committee’s emergency subpoena power hasn’t been used in 200 years, and that he’d hope to keep it that way.

On Tuesday, another Republican publicly praised a Democratic committee chairman on his subpoena strategies, this time at the House Oversight and Reform panel.

“I appreciate [Rep. Elijah Cummings’] commitment to an open and deliberative process on his issuance of subpoenas. I look forward to working with him in a fair and constructive manner,” said ranking member Jim Jordan of Ohio.

Cummings and Jordan came together on committee rules governing subpoenas, which the committee approved Tuesday. The rules say that Cummings plans to avoid the use of unilateral subpoenas and “hopes to work with the ranking member on proposed subpoenas well in advance.” The committee rules also say the chairman will consult with the ranking member by providing a physical copy of any subpoena at least 48 hours before it is issued.

Both Jordan and Collins are setting a public benchmark for subpoena usage by the Democratic leaders of their committees. Republicans will be able to point to these letters and press releases in the event that Democrats move toward a more aggressive use of the legal summonses when calling for testimony from Trump administration officials.

But the expressions of bipartisanship did not stop there. At the Oversight meeting, Republicans praised Cummings’ treatment of the minority staff on the panel after Cummings cited previous treatment of his own staff under Darrell Issa’s GOP leadership of the panel.

“Some members may not know this, but eight years ago, when Democrats were first heading into the minority, our chairman at that time, Mr. Issa, put our Democratic staffers up in the fourth floor in a windowless office that used to be used to hold computer servers,” said Cummings.

“We like our office space, Mr. Chairman,” responded Jordan, with a laugh.

Cummings said the same staff that worked in the windowless room under Republican leadership were the staffers who negotiated the improved accommodations for the minority.

“I said, ‘Do not be bitter, be better,’” Cummings told the panel.

According to the chairman, Republican staff now have offices near the hearing room with large windows and even a view of the Capitol.

North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows jumped in, responding with appreciation for the fair treatment the Republicans are receiving under Cummings’ chairmanship, especially with major fights ahead on oversight of the Trump administration.

“We all recognize that this could be one of the most contentious committees on Capitol Hill and yet your willingness to work with our staff, to provide generous workspace, with windows, is greatly appreciated,” he said.

During a break at the Oversight meeting, Meadows, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, walked over to the other side of the hearing room to greet a powerhouse group of progressive freshmen.

He welcomed Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who were seated together at the front of the room, where members with least seniority are relegated.

Amid all the collegiality, Cummings offered one caveat. “You know I tell people: Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness,” he said. “We’re going to put a microscope on the executive branch, and we need to do that.”

Caroline Simon contributed to this report.

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