House gavel with impeachment power up for grabs

The House Judiciary Committee is losing its chairman next year, creating an unusually wide-open race for one of the most powerful gavels in Congress.

Behind Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteHouse Judiciary Committee subpoenas FBI agent who sent anti-Trump texts Trump tweet may doom House GOP effort on immigration House still plans immigration vote next week despite Trump's tweet MORE (R-Va.), who is retiring at the end of his term, is a deeply unsettled committee bench whose senior ranks have been decimated by retirements.

This likely means that several candidates will jockey to take over leadership of the committee, which has sprawling jurisdiction over issues like gun control, surveillance law and patent reform.

“As you go down the dais, there’s not a clear heir apparent chairman,” said one Republican aide closely tracking the race.

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Change is also coming to the Democratic side of the panel, where the ranking member slot is up for grabs due to the resignation of Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersPortland activist stages ‘reparations happy hour’ Conyers III won't appear on primary ballot in race to replace his father Conyers's son in danger of missing ballot in Michigan MORE Jr. (D-Mich.). If Democrats win back the House next year, the ranking member would likely become Judiciary chairman in 2019.

That means that, one way or another, there will soon be a dramatic reshaping of a committee that Goodlatte has run with an iron fist. 

One of the Republicans considering a bid for the gavel is Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsTime to set politics aside to move ahead on criminal justice reform Don’t kick the can down the road on prison reform — now is the time for change Rep. Chabot puts impeachment at center of his case for Judiciary post MORE (R-Ga.), a well-liked member of House GOP leadership who is far less senior than several of his colleagues who are also eyeing the job.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyTop House Dem claims Judiciary chairman's DOJ, FBI subpoena is invalid The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — GOP lawmakers race to find an immigration fix Republicans tear into IG finding on Clinton probe MORE (R-S.C.) is also seen as a strong contender, but to take over Judiciary he would have to give up the Oversight gavel that he took up just six months ago, when Rep. 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) retired.

Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaThe Hill's 12:30 Report On The Money: New York AG sues to dissolve Trump Foundation | Issa tamps down rumors of consumer agency nomination | Bank regulator faces backlash over comments on racism | Cohn contradicts Trump on trade Issa tamps down rumors of consumer bureau nomination MORE (R-Calif.) wants the Judiciary position, but he faces a tough reelection race next year in a district that is trending toward Democrats. Even if Issa wins another term, it’s an open question whether House leadership would support his bid, given his tumultuous tenure as Oversight chairman during the Obama administration.

The most senior member of Judiciary weighing a run is Rep. Steve ChabotSteven (Steve) Joseph ChabotHouse Judiciary Committee subpoenas FBI agent who sent anti-Trump texts House Judiciary set to subpoena FBI agent Peter Strzok 'very soon,' member says GOP lawmaker says Ginsburg, Kennedy may want to outlast Trump MORE (R-Ohio), who currently chairs the House Small Business Committee. But Chabot is also in a strong position to seek the House Foreign Affairs Committee gavel, another panel he says he’s interested in leading.

Those tracking the Judiciary race say one of the House Freedom Caucus members on the committee might also make a play for the chairmanship, but it’s unlikely they would get the backing of House leadership. Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanMeadows: Subpoenas in Russia probe 'forthcoming in days' Republicans tear into IG finding on Clinton probe Republican wants to know why Rosenstein delayed release of FBI agent texts MORE (R-Ohio), the former chairman of the Freedom Caucus whom many in the group wanted to become Oversight chairman, declined to comment on the Judiciary race this week. 

Judiciary is stacked with Freedom Caucus lawmakers, but some of the other more senior members are already out of the running. Rep. Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksFreedom Caucus bruised but unbowed in GOP primary fights Eric Schneiderman and #MeToo pose challenges for both parties The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ariz.) abruptly resigned on Friday over allegations of inappropriate conduct with staff, and Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) is running for governor of his home state in 2018.

Behind Goodlatte in seniority is Rep. Jim SensenbrennerFrank (Jim) James SensenbrennerLawmakers question FBI director on encryption Doug Collins to run for House Judiciary chair Lawmakers renew call for end to 'black budget' secrecy MORE (R-Wis.), a former chairman of the committee. But although the rules permit Sensenbrenner to seek the position for a second time, he will not do so, according to an aide.

Each of the lawmakers eyeing the post cautioned that it was still far too early to set their strategy — “I have no idea what I’m going to have for supper tonight,” quipped Gowdy — but the early positioning has begun.

Collins, at least, said he has gotten some “encouragement” from the Steering Committee, which will choose the next chairman. But when the time comes, there will be a new bench on that 32-member panel, largely made up of leadership loyalists.

The wild card, aides watching the nascent race say, will be Gowdy. For now, the 53-year-old former prosecutor — a top leadership ally — is keeping his options open.

Gowdy, who rose to prominence as the head of the Select Committee on Benghazi, is one of three Republicans leading the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the election. His Oversight Committee also recently announced a joint investigation with the Intelligence panel into the 2010 sale of a Canadian mining company with holdings in the U.S. to Russia.

But speaking to The Hill on Thursday, Gowdy left little doubt where his preferences lie.

“If [House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGeorge Will: Vote against GOP in midterms Trump tweet may doom House GOP effort on immigration On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Trump floats tariffs on European cars | Nikki Haley slams UN report on US poverty | Will tax law help GOP? It's a mystery MORE (R-Wis.)] came to me and said ‘You can only have one committee, I’m going to take the other three away from you,’ as much as I love [Intelligence] and Oversight, I would say 'give me Judiciary,' ” he said.

Whoever takes over Judiciary after Goodlatte’s departure will inherit a swath of hot-button issues — including the responsibility for impeachment proceedings against federal officials.

Some Democrats have openly called for the House to initiate impeachment proceedings for President TrumpDonald John TrumpTom Arnold claims to have unreleased 'tapes' of Trump Cohen distances himself from Tom Arnold, says they did not discuss Trump US military indefinitely suspends two training exercises with South Korea MORE, a non-starter under Republican leadership.

But encouraged by a national election sweep in local races across the country last month, Democrats are increasingly bullish about their chances of claiming the 24 seats they would need to regain the majority next year.

Should Democrats win back the House, the push for impeaching Trump could be intense. On Wednesday, 58 Democrats voted in favor of an impeachment resolution, and many said they aren’t ruling out supporting impeachment once the results of the various Russia investigations become public.

That leaves open the question of who would preside over such an effort.

Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenLive coverage: High drama as hardline immigration bill fails, compromise vote delayed Hillicon Valley: House Dems release Russia-linked Facebook ads | Bill would block feds from mandating encryption 'back doors' | AT&T hired Cohen for advice on Time Warner merger | FCC hands down record robocall fine | White House launches AI panel Lawmakers move to block government from ordering digital ‘back doors’ MORE (D-Calif.), a privacy hawk and immigration lawyer, is running for the ranking member slot against the acting ranking member, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

Nadler is the most senior Democrat on the committee, but Lofgren is a veteran lawmaker from California, the home state of House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiMark Penn: Dems could win House, but Pelosi not guaranteed speakership On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Trump floats tariffs on European cars | Nikki Haley slams UN report on US poverty | Will tax law help GOP? It's a mystery The American economy is stronger than ever six months after tax cuts MORE.

Democrats will hold their election to replace Conyers next week, according to Nadler.