The New House Accountability Committee Chairman: ‘We’re Two Years Behind in Oversight’
Meanwhile, Democrats say Comer and his fellow Republicans are hypocritical and partisan.
The House Republican at the helm of the chamber’s oversight committee wants to support American taxpayers and has a long list of priorities, including looking into COVID-19 relief fraud, bringing federal employees back to offices and investigating the Biden administration on various fronts. However, Democrats say his claims are chock-full of hypocrisy and partisan attacks.
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Monday morning. House Republicans, now in the majority, hit the ground running by launching investigations into the Biden administration, including one in relation to the discovery of classified documents at President Biden’s Delaware home and former office from when he was vice president and senator.
“I believe with all my heart we have a duty to get the backs of the American taxpayer,” Comer said. “I think that’s something that has been left out of the mix over the past several years in Congress. I want to be a substantive committee. I want to be transparent with the media.”
He said he believes the committee needs to get back to its primary mission of rooting out waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement in the federal government, which is why the panel’s first hearing on Wednesday will be about the massive fraud in COVID-19 relief programs. Michael Horowitz, chair of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee and Justice Department inspector general; Gene Dodaro, comptroller general and head of the Government Accountability Office; and David Smith, assistant director for the Secret Service’s Office of Investigations, are scheduled to testify.
“I feel like we’re two years behind in oversight, so we’re going to have to go back” as well as look ahead, said Comer, who has not been shy about expressing his dismay at the committee’s work under Democratic leadership.
Later this week, the House is scheduled to vote on a bill that Comer introduced that would reinstate pre-pandemic telework policies as well as require the executive branch agencies to submit reports to Congress on the impacts of expanded telework and remote work during the pandemic. So far, the bill only has Republican co-sponsors.
“We just want the federal employees to come back to work,” Comer said, noting that Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has also called for the federal government to step up its return to office process. “Plus, you look at all this real estate downtown that’s empty,” which is also a concern of Bowser, he stated. “There’s so many federal employees that aren't coming to work that it has had a negative impact on the economy in Washington, D.C.”
As for the classified documents situation, Comer said Congress has to reform how documents are boxed up when they leave the president and vice president’s offices, noting that since there are special counsels looking into presidents Trump and Biden, this is a big problem. He added that he thinks this effort can be bipartisan.
He also said on Tuesday that the general counsel for the National Archives and Records Administration is coming in for a transcribed interview on the Biden situation and House members from both parties will attend.
“We’re investigating the Biden family for influence peddling,” Comer said. “We learned that they have classified documents in multiple locations. We are concerned: is that a part of the influence peddling? I don’t know. If someone can bring me evidence that Trump was using the documents or was influence peddling with inside information then we will investigate that.” The new chairman also said Trump has been investigated for six years and now a second special counsel is looking into him, so Trump has been investigated and continues to be investigated.
Other priorities for Comer’s panel include the situation at the Southern border, the energy crisis, prescription drug pricing, COVID-19 origins and the Afghanistan withdrawal. As for Afghanistan, the committee has learned that the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Recovery “is very frustrated,” Comer said, as “this administration is not working with them.” For watchdogs overall, “I think you’re going to hear from certain [inspectors general] that are frustrated, that say this administration is not working with them,” he said.
In addition to reforms on handling of documents, Comer expressed optimism that he will be able to work with the committee’s Democratic members and noted: “I think there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for some good government bills,” such as in the area of government contracting.
Another reform he said he hopes will be bipartisan is “to define what is allowable with respect to immediate family members of a president or a high-ranking Cabinet official; what is allowable in doing business with foreign enemies; and, at the very least, once we define what is allowable and what is not allowable, we significantly increase the disclosure laws.” This was born out of his concerns about Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
Brad Woodhouse, board member of the Congressional Integrity Project, a group fighting the Republican investigations into the Democrats, decried Comer’s “Trump-style political attacks” and extreme hypocrisy, especially in regard to the Biden documents investigation, during a press conference to rebut what Comer said. When asked about the COVID fraud hearing this week, Woodhouse said he’s “skeptical of the legitimacy of their inquiries.”
Rebecca Parks, the project’s research director, outlined that some of the most “ultra-MAGA” members are on the House oversight as well as judiciary committees. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said the Democrats need to have a “3-D strategy” to take on the Republicans over the next two years to discredit the investigations, defend the Biden administration and deliver messages on what they’ll do when they’re in the majority again.”
Former Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who served as chairwoman of the House oversight committee, said earlier this month, “When Democrats were in power, we used the oversight committee and investigations to accomplish public good for the American people.” This included leading the charge for Postal Service and civil service reforms (including paid family leave), as well as finding allegedly vast conflicts of interest for consulting firm McKinsey & Company for working with both federal regulators and the drug industry. Meanwhile, “with Republicans they don’t seem to have a purpose except to investigate and destroy,” Maloney said.