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 GowdyRising star Ratcliffe faces battle to become Trump's intel chief Cummings announces expansion of Oversight panel's White House personal email probe, citing stonewalling Pelosi says it's up to GOP to address sexual assault allegation against Trump 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 TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE, who strikes back fiercely at critics.

Former Oversight Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzHouse Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke GOP senators decline to criticize Acosta after new Epstein charges 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 RossIsrael should resist Trump's efforts to politicize support Pro-Saudi Arabia think tank abruptly closes in Washington The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke 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 RussellThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority 5 themes to watch for in 2020 fight for House Oklahoma New Members 2019 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 IssaThe Hill's Morning Report — US strikes approved against Iran pulled back Darrell Issa eyes return to Congress Trump's 2020 campaign strategy is to be above the law MORE (R-Calif.) and Rep. John DuncanJohn James DuncanLamar Alexander's exit marks end of an era in evolving Tennessee Tennessee New Members 2019 Live coverage: Social media execs face grilling on Capitol Hill MORE Jr. (R-Tenn.) — are not running for reelection. GOP Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisFlorida first lady to miss Women for Trump event due to planned execution Florida governor orders criminal investigation into handling of Jeffrey Epstein case Groups ask court to block ex-felon voting law in Florida MORE is running for Florida governor this cycle.

And a former member of leadership, Rep. Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann Foxx58 GOP lawmakers vote against disaster aid bill The GOP's commitment to electing talented women can help party retake the House When disaster relief hurts 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 RyanUSCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Soaring deficits could put Trump in a corner if there's a recession Paul Ryan moving family to Washington 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 FrelinghuysenThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Top House GOP appropriations staffer moves to lobbying shop Individuals with significant disabilities need hope and action MORE (R-N.J.) said he would leave Congress right in the middle of his tenure, a trio of Republicans — Reps. Robert AderholtRobert Brown AderholtHouse advances B agriculture bill Dems advance bill defying Trump State Department cuts Maryland raises legal tobacco purchasing age to 21 MORE (R-Ala.), Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerLobbying world House approves bill increasing federal worker pay House approves 3 billion spending package MORE (R-Texas) and Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeTo fix retirement, we need to understand it On The Money: Trump banks on Fed, China to fuel 2020 economy | Judge orders parties to try to reach deal in lawsuit over Trump tax returns | Warren targets corporate power with plan to overhaul trade policy Lawmakers point to entitlements when asked about deficits MORE (R-Okla.) — quickly launched campaigns to replace him.

A fourth, Rep. Mike SimpsonMIchael (Mike) Keith SimpsonHouse passes Paycheck Fairness Act Press: Democrats dare to think big Dem chairwoman seeks watchdog probe of Park Service’s shutdown operations MORE (R-Idaho), said that same day he was seriously thinking about joining the race. And Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesGOP scores procedural win by securing more funding to enforce Iran sanctions Bipartisan bill would enable companies to defend themselves against cyberattacks Republicans spend more than million at Trump properties 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 JordanTrump knocks news of CNN hiring ex-FBI official McCabe Democratic Women's Caucus calls for investigation into Epstein plea deal DOJ releases notes from official Bruce Ohr's Russia probe interviews MORE (R-Ohio) and Reps. Mark SanfordMarshall (Mark) Clement SanfordThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Jewish Democrats decry Trump's 'loyalty' remarks Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE (R-S.C.), Justin AmashJustin AmashLawmakers blast Trump as Israel bars door to Tlaib and Omar House Democrats targeting six more Trump districts for 2020 Sanford headed to New Hampshire amid talk of challenge to Trump MORE (R-Mich.), Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarConservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess The 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran Conservatives ask Barr to lay out Trump's rationale for census question MORE (R-Ariz.) and Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.). Current Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsTrump knocks news of CNN hiring ex-FBI official McCabe Ben Shapiro: No prominent GOP figure ever questioned Obama's legitimacy Trump finds consistent foil in 'Squad' 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 WalkerOn The Money: House passes sweeping budget, debt limit deal | Dem court filing defends powers to get Trump's NY tax returns | Debt collectors to pay M to settle consumer bureau charges House passes sweeping budget, debt limit deal Romney to vote against budget deal: Agreement 'perpetuates fiscal recklessness' 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.