Gowdy front-runner to be next Oversight chairman

Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyDem lawmaker calls on House to subpoena American translator from Trump-Putin meeting The Hill's Morning Report — Trump isolated and denounced after Putin meeting Ryan: 'The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally' 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 ChaffetzTucker Carlson: Ruling class cares more about foreigners than their own people Fox's Kennedy chides Chaffetz on child migrants: 'I’m sure these mini rapists all have bombs strapped to their chests' After FBI cleared by IG report, GOP must reform itself 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 BlackBrady at White House meeting: House to vote on more tax cuts in September GOP lawmaker introduces legislation labelling first-time illegal border crossing as a felony Scalise throws support behind Black, Blackburn ahead of Tennessee primary 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 RyanWhy the rush to condemn a carbon tax? House votes to go to conference on farm bill House backs resolution expressing support for ICE MORE (R-Wis.). Jordan had been one of the Freedom ringleaders who pressured then-Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFive GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Ex-lawmakers see tough job market with trade groups Veterans are left out of medical marijuana protections 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 ClintonState Dept: Russia’s allegations about American citizens ‘absolutely absurd’ Trump on possible sit-down with Mueller: 'I've always wanted to do an interview' Election Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas 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.