Republicans Say They'll Go Back to the Basics With Oversight Priorities
The new chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee says it will return "to its primary duty to root out waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in the federal government."
House Republicans are using the lame duck session to plan for the investigations they intend to pursue involving the federal agencies and workforce and possible impeachment inquiries when the new Congress convenes in January.
“Over the last two years of Democrats’ one-party rule in Washington, House Democrats have not lifted a finger to engage in oversight and accountability of the Biden administration’s actions and abuses of power,” House Republican Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is running for House speaker, said in a statement on Dec. 6. “We will leave no stone unturned in order to deliver the accountability the American people deserve.”
While Republicans did not have the anticipated “red wave” in the midterm elections, they will have a slim majority, though there are already intra-party conflicts. The Democrats held onto control of the Senate, also with only a slight edge. Enacting legislation with each party’s policy priorities might be difficult, but House Republicans now have subpoenas, and agenda-setting power.
McCarthy said the Republicans’ oversight priorities will fall into the following categories: Homeland Security Department and the “open border crisis;” big tech and the “silencing of Americans’ free speech;” China, national security; COVID origins; Hunter Biden; the U.S.’s “disastrous” withdrawal from Afghanistan; Washington spending; the Justice Department and FBI (including politicization of both); education and “woke” ideology; energy production and American industry; “politicization and abuse” of the Internal Revenue Service; and “breaking the swamp’s bureaucracy.”
Some of the specific probes will include: looking into the DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’s claim that the border is secure; alleged FBI targeting of political opponents; and the 87,000 new IRS agents that have been a punching bag for Republicans for a while now. For the latter, the Biden administration has pushed back on claims that it will double the size of the workforce.
Under the “breaking the swamp’s bureaucracy” umbrella, priorities will involve: asking agencies to provide the relevant statutory language for the regulations they seek to issue, following a Supreme Court’s decision over the summer that could limit agencies' abilities to create new regulations, limiting remote work options for federal employees and ensuring ethics compliance for federal officials.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee is the main investigative body in that legislative chamber and, as expected, Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., was selected to sit at its helm.
“Republicans will return the oversight committee to its primary duty to root out waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in the federal government and hold the Biden administration accountable,” Comer said in a statement on Dec. 7, announcing his chairmanship. He listed many of the investigations McCarthy laid out and noted, “we will use all tools at our disposal to identify problems and propose solutions that make the federal government more efficient, effective, transparent, and accountable to the American people.” Overall, his committee will investigate between 40 and 50 matters and will have 25 members on the committee and a staff of almost 70, Comer said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Nov. 27.
On the impending investigation into the origins of COVID-19 – a major subject of debate by lawmakers and intelligence and public officials as well as a hotbed for conspiracy theories – Comer told Government Executive in an interview before the midterm elections, “we didn't say the Democrats started COVID,” when asked if any of his investigations could be bipartisan.
“We said that we feared that the Chinese started COVID in the Wuhan lab, but there was never any effort to join our investigation of the origination of COVID,” he said. “Everything the oversight committee has unearthed with respect to [Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Francis Collins, former director of the National Institutes of Health, NIH and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], that's been done by Republican oversight staff.”
The GOP has also been critical of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, a panel of the oversight committee and its future is still unknown, Politico reported on Friday.
“Biden family influence peddling,” as the Republicans call it, will be another main priority for the oversight committee. Comer and other House Republicans already hosted a press conference on it and released a preliminary report arguing the president “has participated in his family’s global business ventures with America’s adversaries” and “misused his public positions to further his family’s financial interests.”
When asked about the planned Republican investigations into his family members, particularly his son, Hunter Biden, the president said during a Nov. 9 press conference as election results were still pouring in that, “the American public want us to move on and get things done for them.”
Ian Sams, spokesman for White House Counsel’s office, said in a statement to Government Executive, that “congressional Republicans’ top priority is to go after President Biden with politically motivated attacks chock full of long-debunked conspiracy theories.” He added that the president “is not going to let these political attacks distract him from focusing on Americans’ priorities” and hopes the House Republicans will join him.
Other lawmakers and committees have already been putting agencies on notice for what they plan to look into.
For example, last month, members of the House Judiciary Committee sent a series of letters to White House and top agency officials looking to proactively schedule interviews for their various investigations. One of which was to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, seeking testimony from him and officials from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Patrol, Office of the General Counsel, Office of Strategy, Policy and Plans and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
“DHS responds to congressional correspondence via official channels, not through the media. Broadly speaking, we take congressional oversight seriously and have been preparing for months for any possible uptick in congressional activity, including frequent meetings among senior staff to discuss response efforts,” said a DHS spokesperson. “With about 100 committees of oversight, DHS continuously responds to hundreds of congressional inquiries per month, including two hearings with Secretary Mayorkas last month.”
Other Bites at the Apple
Daniel Schuman, policy director for Demand Progress, a progressive organization that advocates for modernization and accountability in government, and federal policymaking expert, told Government Executive, other ways to force information out of the administration, such as by including provisions in must-pass legislation like funding bills or National Defense Authorization Acts, asking the Government Accountability Office or inspectors general to look into things, or stymying the president’s priorities. He noted the "tools available to members are fairly weak unless the members are willing to be very aggressive."
There are also resolutions of inquiry, which are House resolutions that make a direct request/demand for the president or an agency head to hand over specific information, however there isn’t a legal force behind them or direct means of enforcement.
Schuman said when a party is in the majority, letters from a committee chair are more effective, but resolutions of inquiry can be used by "backbenchers" or those in non-leadership roles, assuming they can get enough votes. Republicans have been making use of them while still in the minority party, after the limitations instituted because of the pandemic were lifted, as Roll Call reported in October.
Lastly, there could be impeachment proceedings in the next Congress, which comes after the former president was impeached twice by the House and acquitted both times by the Senate, something many Republicans claim was for purely political reasons.
On Nov. 22, McCarthy said that if Mayorkas doesn’t resign due to his handling of the border, he will face investigations that could lead to him being impeached. This came after Biden accepted the resignation of CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus on Nov. 12, following a news report that he was “unengaged.” More than a dozen House Republicans had called for him to resign.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a polarizing figure in the Republican party who is looking to join the oversight committee, tweeted IMPEACH MERRICK GARLAND! on Nov. 18 after the attorney general announced the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department’s two Trump-related probes, as the former president has announced he plans to run for the office again.
A House impeachment inquiry would likely fall flat in the Senate with the Democrats still in control, also several Republican senators have had a tepid response to impeachments, as Politico reported. Over the past two years, Republican members have already introduced measures to impeach Mayorkas, Garland, Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Vice President Kamala Harris, but they haven’t gone anywhere.
“It was reported many times that Republicans were saying, and the former president said, “How many times are you going to impeach Biden?” the president said on Nov. 9. “I think the American people will look at all of that for what it is. It’s just almost comedy...I can't control what they're going to do. All I can do is continue to try to make life better for the American people.”