House Oversight a gavel no one wants

House Oversight a gavel no one wants
© Greg Nash

It’s the gavel that no one wants.

Not a single GOP lawmaker has launched a bid to replace retiring 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.) as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the panel with investigatory powers over the Trump administration.

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The lack of interest in the gavel underscores how politically tricky and toxic many Republicans view the job.

Most Republicans have no desire to lead a committee whose central charge would be investigating a Republican administration — particularly one led by the volatile President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want to use 'adversary' to describe Russia Comey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterms Roby wins Alabama GOP runoff, overcoming blowback from Trump criticism MORE, who strikes back fiercely at critics.

Former Oversight 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) decided shortly after Trump took office it was better for him to quit Congress than to face pressure to investigate a Republican-run White House. Now Gowdy, less than a year into his chairmanship, is following Chaffetz out the door.    

No one is throwing their hat in the ring for Gowdy’s chairmanship “probably because it’s a Republican president,” conceded Rep. Dennis RossDennis Alan RossTrump, GOP launch full-court press on compromise immigration measure GOP will vote on immigration next week, sinking discharge petition GOP centrists face decision day on Dreamer petition MORE (R-Fla.), a member of the panel.

When pressed by The Hill, Ross, a senior deputy whip who’s close to leadership, said he would “seriously consider” a bid for Oversight chairman given Gowdy’s decision to leave Congress.

But until now, Ross had not publicly discussed his plans and has not made any final decisions. The Florida Republican also seemed to suggest that, as chairman, he would be more focused on the “government reform” aspect of the committee rather than launching high-profile congressional probes into the Trump administration.

“We’ve got a lot of reforms we need to address, including postal reform. Postal is something that needs to be taken care of. I chaired that subcommittee six years ago,” Ross said in an interview just off the House floor. “You don’t have to always have investigative hearings, [though] that’s a component of it.”

After Chaffetz resigned from Congress last summer, Rep. Steve RussellSteven (Steve) Dane RussellWATCH: GOP Rep says Bolton can be ‘polarizing’ WATCH: Fund government, then tackle DACA, GOP rep says WATCH: Republicans won't say if House will pass stand-alone background check bill MORE (R-Okla.) unsuccessfully challenged the better-known Gowdy for the Oversight gavel. When contacted by The Hill, Russell said in a statement he “remain[s] interested in the chairmanship,” though he is low on the seniority food chain and appears to be hanging back for now.

The two most senior members of the committee — former Oversight Chairman Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaSparks fly at hearing on anti-conservative bias in tech House GOP questions FBI lawyer for second day More than 50 Dem House challengers outraise GOP incumbents MORE (R-Calif.) and Rep. John DuncanJohn James DuncanTSA forced to check whether air marshals show up to work sober: report Loss of Ryan hits hard for House Republicans Ethics Committee to expand campaign finance investigation of Tennessee Republican MORE Jr. (R-Tenn.) — are not running for reelection. GOP Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisGOP lawmaker accuses Brennan of being member of Communist Party Fox's Ingraham chides Gohmert for infidelity questions of Strzok: 'I didn't think that was good' Cook shifts House race of lawmaker who bought multimillion dollar yacht away from GOP MORE is running for Florida governor this cycle.

And a former member of leadership, Rep. Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxHouse passes bill putting restrictions on unfunded mandates The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies for Putin summit: 'He’s not my enemy’ UMITA is the bipartisan regulatory relief Americans need MORE (R-N.C.), said she has no desire to trade her Education and the Workforce Committee gavel for the Oversight one.

“No!” Foxx replied, before chuckling at the suggestion.

When recently asked by The Hill who is running to replace him, Gowdy stopped outside the House chamber and paused for a moment.

“I don’t know who is,” he said. “I haven’t heard anyone announced. If they have, I have not heard it.”

Gowdy cautioned that the race is “still so far off” and that it’s unknown whether the GOP will even hang on to the majority, which he thought could be deterring folks from throwing their hats into the ring so early — though that clearly hasn’t stopped members from vying for the House Appropriations Committee gavel that’s also up for grabs next cycle.

During his short, eight-month stint atop the panel, Gowdy has decided against holding Oversight hearings into possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign or the series of scandals that have beset Trump’s Cabinet. 

Just two weeks after his stunning announcement he was done with Congress, however, Gowdy appeared on CNN to say his committee had just opened a congressional probe into the FBI’s security clearance process and why former White House aide Rob Porter had kept his job after his two ex-wives accused him of domestic violence.

Gowdy, 53, a former federal prosecutor, said he was leaving Congress because he misses the justice system and likes “jobs where facts matter” and “where fairness matters.”

Members of the powerful Republican Steering Committee — a 32-person panel comprising Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanSenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Kelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report Lobbying world MORE (R-Wis.), leadership allies and regional representatives — will select a new slate of GOP committee chairs after the 2018 midterm elections. (The Steering Committee will pick ranking members in the event that Republicans lose control of the House.)

But, so far, Steering Committee members said they’ve received no phone calls or text messages from potential candidates lobbying for the job.

“I haven’t heard from anyone,” said one Steering Committee member.

Republicans are making a much more aggressive play for the Appropriations Committee gavel, which carries enormous influence over how hundreds of billions of federal dollars are spent each year.

On Jan. 29, the day Appropriations Chairman Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter Frelinghuysen'Minibus' spending conference committee abruptly canceled GOP runs into Trump tax law in New Jersey Fortenberry named chairman of legislative appropriations subcommittee in House MORE (R-N.J.) said he would leave Congress right in the middle of his tenure, a trio of Republicans — Reps. Robert AderholtRobert Brown AderholtForcing faith-based agencies out of the system is a disservice to women Excluding faith-based providers harms kids by cutting off agencies that can help them House panel moves to protect 'religious conviction' of adoption agencies MORE (R-Ala.), Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerGOP senators visited Moscow on July 4, warned Russia against meddling in 2018 election: report GOP lawmakers plan official visit to Russia later this week House panel rejects war authorization sunset it passed last year MORE (R-Texas) and Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation GOP centrists face decision day on Dreamer petition Bipartisan support for medical research is good news for all MORE (R-Okla.) — quickly launched campaigns to replace him.

A fourth, Rep. Mike SimpsonMIchael (Mike) Keith Simpson'Minibus' spending conference committee abruptly canceled Five things to know about efforts to repeal Obama's water rule Key conservative presses for shield law after seizure of NYT reporter’s records MORE (R-Idaho), said that same day he was seriously thinking about joining the race. And Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesHouse committee approves spending bill that would boost IRS funding House panel advances financial services spending bill Georgia governor vetoes controversial hacking legislation MORE (R-Ga.) formally jumped in the Appropriations race last week.

There are also some other politics at play in the race for the Oversight gavel.

The panel is packed with members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus. In fact, the five most senior Oversight members who will be returning to Congress next year are Freedom Caucus lawmakers. They are, in order of seniority: former Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanFormer OSU wrestlers sue university over sex abuse allegations Freedom Caucus lawmakers call on DOJ to probe Rosenstein allegations Lawsuit alleges USA Diving ignored sexual abuse of divers MORE (R-Ohio) and Reps. Mark SanfordMarshall (Mark) Clement SanfordGOP lawmaker renews call for Trump to release tax returns after Putin summit Once a Trump critic, Ala. rep faces runoff with his support Lawmakers aim to use spending bill to block offshore drilling MORE (R-S.C.), Justin AmashJustin AmashHouse conservatives criticize media, not Trump, for Putin furor Watchdog: First lady spokeswoman may have violated Hatch Act with ‘MAGA’ tweet GOP Rep. Amash slams Kavanaugh on government surveillance rulings MORE (R-Mich.), Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarGOP lawmaker speaks at rally for jailed anti-Muslim activist in UK Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog won’t drop Pruitt probes | Exxon leaves conservative advocacy group | Lawmakers offer changes to Endangered Species Act Western lawmakers introduce bills to amend Endangered Species Act MORE (R-Ariz.) and Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.). Current Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsFreedom Caucus lawmakers call on DOJ to probe Rosenstein allegations House GOP questions FBI lawyer for second day Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus MORE (R-N.C.) is also on the committee.

But the leadership-aligned Steering Committee has a track record of denying Freedom Caucus members committee gavels.

“I don’t know that Freedom Caucus members’ chances on the Steering Committee are always that good, but we’ll see,” Jordan told The Hill.

He added that he and other Freedom Caucus members would like to see the GOP rules changed to give members of a particular committee more say in choosing their own chair. Such a move would shift power away from leadership.

“Because if that were the case, I’d be in a pretty good position,” Jordan said. “We’re going to look at it later.”

Another possible candidate is Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerGOP leaders jockey for affection of House conservatives Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Senators seek data on tax law's impact on charitable giving MORE (R-N.C.), whose term as Republican Study Committee chairman ends this year. But in an interview, Walker said he’s given the post no thought.

“I’ve had no major discussions on that whatsoever. I’ve not even thought of it because of my work as Republican Study Committee chair,” said Walker, who may be eyeing a leadership post higher up the GOP ladder.

Walker said he was fully supportive of Gowdy’s probe into Porter and possible weaknesses in the FBI background-check process for White House employees who handle sensitive information and documents.

“If you’ve got a history of physical or spousal abuse, you should never be in a position of service that’s making judgment calls,” Walker said.

“I don’t work with anybody who I have more confidence in or believe there is a man of more integrity than Trey Gowdy. So when he signs off on something, he has my 100 percent support.”

Melanie Zanona contributed.