Gowdy front-runner to be next Oversight chairman

Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyCongressional investigators make first evidence requests in Russia nuclear bribery case Dem demands documents from TSA after scathing security report Dems find an unlikely attack dog on Russia MORE (R-S.C.) could be the next chairman of the House Oversight Committee — if he wants the job.

The popular South Carolina Republican and former Select Committee on Benghazi chairman has emerged as the front-runner to replace Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzDem demands documents from TSA after scathing security report Chaffetz replacement sworn in as House member Democrats expand House map after election victories MORE (R-Utah), who made it official Thursday that he would resign from Congress on June 30. 

Gowdy, a prominent leadership ally, has been racking up endorsements from colleagues on the Oversight panel and the influential Steering Committee, which will choose the next chairman. The 52-year-old former prosecutor is one of a handful of senior Oversight members who has been calling and texting Steering members about the gavel. 

“If Trey runs, he’ll get it,” one Steering Committee member told The Hill.

But Gowdy’s office said the congressman has made no final decision about whether he’ll run.

“Rep. Gowdy is talking to members in the conference about the qualities they believe are most important for the next Chairman to possess,” said Gowdy spokeswoman Amanda Gonzalez.

At least two other Oversight members — Reps. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) and Steve Russell (R-Okla.) — have been reaching out to the 32-member Steering panel.

The Oversight Committee is stacked with members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, and several of them said they favored former Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to be the next chairman. 

Jordan is third in seniority on the Oversight panel behind Reps. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) and former Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), neither of whom are making a play for the gavel. Gowdy is eighth in seniority and would need to leapfrog a number of colleagues to win the gavel.

Seniority is considered by the Steering panel, but isn’t the deciding factor: Chaffetz, backed by GOP leaders, beat several more senior colleagues to win the Oversight gavel in late 2014; Rep. Diane BlackDiane Lynn BlackGOP nears initial victory on tax reform Mounting GOP retirements threaten House majority The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on tax-reform bill MORE (R-Tenn.) performed a similar feat on the Budget Committee earlier this year.

Jordan conceded Thursday that it’d be an uphill battle for him to win given that the Steering group is largely comprised of loyalists to Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDem: Ex-lawmaker tried to pin me to elevator door and kiss me Two months later: Puerto Rico doesn’t have power, education or economy running again On Capitol Hill, few name names on sexual harassment MORE (R-Wis.). Jordan had been one of the Freedom ringleaders who pressured then-Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerTrump's pick for Federal Reserve chief is right choice at right time The two-party system is dying — let’s put it out of its misery One year later, neither party can get past last year's election MORE (R-Ohio) to resign in 2015, making Jordan persona non grata to some GOP colleagues.

"I love the work on the committee. I think I would have strong support amongst committee members,” Jordan said. “But, I mean, let’s be honest. The process for determining the chairman’s not the makeup of — it’s not a vote of the members on the committee. It’s a vote on the Steering Committee." 

“And that process is not always the one that’s most favorable to guys like me who don’t always go along with the establishment,” Jordan added.

The next Oversight chairman will have to negotiate a number of political landmines in the coming months given the series of crises the Trump White House is currently facing. There are now congressional, FBI and Justice Department probes into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 campaign.

And just this week, Chaffetz had formally requested memos from recently ousted FBI Director James Comey after The New York Times reported that Comey had documented in a memo that Trump had urged him to drop his investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Whereas Gowdy burnished his reputation investigating Clinton and the Obama administration, the Tea Party favorite is now asking himself whether he wants to spend the next four years probing and ferreting waste out of a Republican administration. GOP committee chairmen also are required to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the party each cycle.

Gowdy is already the top choice of leadership. Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), who as a member of leadership gets a vote on the Steering panel, told The Hill on Thursday that he’s endorsing Gowdy for the job.

Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the 170-member Republican Study Committee, endorsed Gowdy, though he doesn’t serve on the Steering panel.

Gowdy “is the person I want for the job and the person I think will get the job,” Walker told The Hill.

Even Ross, who’s been talking to Steering members about the job, said he would defer to Gowdy if the former Benghazi chairman decided to run. Gowdy made a name for himself as his special committee spent more than two years probing the 2012 terrorist attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonO’Malley tells Dems not to fear Trump FBI informant gathered years of evidence on Russian push for US nuclear fuel deals, including Uranium One, memos show Pelosi blasts California Republicans for supporting tax bill MORE’s response to that event as secretary of State.

Gowdy’s Benghazi panel created major headaches for Clinton as she ran for president in 2016. 

“My first wish is to see that it be Trey Gowdy. Trey is a dear friend. I think he’d be exceptional at it. I think he offers great insight. I think he’s got great experience,” Ross told The Hill. 

“And if he chooses not to do it then, yes, I would consider offering myself to do that. But we’ll see how it plays out.”

— Mike Lillis and Cristina Marcos contributed.