The GOP plan was for North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows to become the ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee when Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan was named to lead House Judiciary Republicans, but things change.
Meadows left Congress to become White House chief of staff, and who will lead Oversight’s minority is now in question.
Of the 16 Republicans still on the committee, only six have served in the House for at least three terms, and several are already ranking members on other committees. It’s left some wondering who will succeed Jordan; several have expressed interest in the job, and Jordan says the talent is already there, although it is unclear who will move into the slot.
“There’s some great people who’ve done great work on the committee, so whoever they pick will be ideal,” Jordan said, referring to the Republican Steering Committee, which is responsible for choosing the conference’s committee leadership and rosters.
Jordan said he saw several members engaged in the committee business and who did their homework before hearings and worked well with the staff. He pointed out several members: freshman Reps. Chip Roy of Texas, Mark Green of Tennessee and Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota, as well as Kentucky’s James Comer, who is in his second full term, and Georgia’s Jody Hice, who is currently serving his third.
Both Comer and Roy expressed interest in the ranking member job, though Roy’s spokesman said there has not been a formal conversation about the post.
Comer, currently Oversight Subcommittee on Environment ranking member, “has received lots of encouragement from the Steering Committee to seek the Ranking Member vacancy,” said Matt Smith, Comer’s communication’s director. “Congressman Comer is continuing his discussions with Steering Committee members, and if leadership calls for an election to fill the vacancy among current committee members, then it is something he will pursue.”
Green said, “It’s an honor to be considered for this important role.”
The remaining members Jordan named did not respond to requests for comment from CQ Roll Call.
North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx, in her eighth term, is already ranking member on Education and Labor. Kentucky’s Thomas Massie and fifth-term Rep. Bob Gibbs, ranking member of the Coast Guard subcommittee on House Transportation and Infrastructure, have no intention of running.
On the Democratic side, the committee has gone through changes too.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, who served as ranking member in the first two years of the Trump administration and chairman after the Democrats took the House in 2018, died in October. He was succeeded by New York Democrat Carolyn B. Maloney.
A GOP aide declined to share particulars but said the Steering Committee “is planning to convene as soon as Members travel back to DC to hold a formal interview and vote for Oversight.”
The ranking member shuffle began in January when Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, then the top Judiciary Committee Republican, launched a Senate campaign, requiring him to step down. House Republicans approved moving Jordan and Meadows. But Meadows then resigned from the House to succeed his former House colleague Mick Mulvaney to become President Donald Trump’s chief of staff.
The move left Jordan as top Republican on two committees, something not allowed under House Republican Conference rules. It’s not clear exactly when he will be formally relieved of his Oversight post — business is effectively frozen until Congress returns from its extended coronavirus-caused recess.
During the Obama administration, the House Oversight panel spent years looking into the law enforcement initiative known as Operation Fast and Furious, the Benghazi attacks and whether the IRS targeted conservative political groups.
“At one point, Oversight, as far as Republicans were concerned, probably had one of the deepest benches of any committee,” said Kurt Bardella, a former GOP aide for the Oversight panel and now an MSNBC contributor.
Past Republican Oversight committee rosters included high-profile veterans like Trey Gowdy and Darrell Issa.
Since Trump has taken office, however, Republicans in both the majority and minority assumed a less aggressive stance, something Bardella expects the committee to continue.
“The Oversight Committee for Republicans just isn’t a priority,” he said.
If former Vice President Joe Biden is elected, he predicts there will be a renewed GOP interest in the role of Oversight.
Jordan disputes the notion that the Trump-era Oversight Committee was less aggressive, arguing the committee is still a priority, “and when it’s appropriate, we’re going to continue to do oversight.”
He also argued that investigations of Trump’s business affairs are unwarranted.
“It’s all been unfair, so of course we’re going to defend him,” Jordan said.
Jordan says he believes the Oversight minority going forward will be pivotal in the coronavirus response. Committee Republicans telegraphed some of their priorities in letters to Chairwoman Maloney, asking for information on how the United States will try to combat a lack of transparency from China. The letter also said it seeks to probe how the World Health Organization worked with China in the early days of the pandemic.
“We should be having hearings on that issue and the money that we, the American taxpayers, are sending that organization,” Jordan said.
Republicans sent other letters to Maloney asking Oversight to stop using the teleconferencing system Zoom over China-related concerns, and they highlighted issues over releasing inmates to allow for increased social distancing between prison staff and inmates.
Jordan was among the Republicans who voted on Thursday against establishing an Oversight select subcommittee to study the coronavirus response, saying it was unnecessary and would be just out to get Trump.
Meanwhile, Jordan says he sees some overlap on prison-related issues as he transitions to the Judiciary Committee.
Judiciary Committee Republicans recently sent a letter to Chairman Jerrold Nadler asking to hold a hearing with Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who found problems with FBI applications to a secret court that approves surveillance as part of counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations.
Congress extended several surveillance authorities, including FISA, until the end of May after they briefly lapsed, allowing time for debate. Jordan says he hopes to focus Judiciary’s attention on the debate, and he hopes Oversight will too.
“When the inspector general issues a report that’s that bad, shows that many problems, you should bring in the inspector general to answer questions, and do it in a public way for the American people to see it,” Jordan said.