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 GowdySunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Gowdy requests FEMA administrator’s travel records amid allegations Nunes: Russia probe documents should be released before election 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 TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE, who strikes back fiercely at critics.

Former Oversight Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzMatt Schlapp: Trump's policies on Russia 'two or three times tougher than anything' under Obama Tucker 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' 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 RossGOP, White House start playing midterm blame game Reshaping US aid to the Palestinians Trump allies want Congress to find anonymous op-ed author 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 IssaTrump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency Overnight Energy: Watchdog to investigate EPA over Hurricane Harvey | Panel asks GAO to expand probe into sexual harassment in science | States sue over methane rules rollback Green group targets California GOP House candidates in new ads MORE (R-Calif.) and Rep. John DuncanJohn James DuncanLive coverage: Social media execs face grilling on Capitol Hill Governor's race grabs spotlight in Tennessee primaries Election Countdown: Trump jumps into Ohio special election fight | What to watch in Tennessee primaries | Koch network freezes out Republicans who crossed them | Dead heat in Texas, Nevada Senate races | How celebs are getting into the midterms MORE Jr. (R-Tenn.) — are not running for reelection. GOP Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisTrump's baby blimp arrives in Florida for Mar-a-Lago protest Dems look to Gillum, Abrams for pathway to victory in tough states San Juan mayor calls Hurricane Maria ‘Trump's Katrina’ MORE is running for Florida governor this cycle.

And a former member of leadership, Rep. Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxTrump calls North Carolina redistricting ruling ‘unfair’ Women poised to take charge in Dem majority House passes bill putting restrictions on unfunded mandates 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 RyanHow does the 25th Amendment work? Sinema, Fitzpatrick call for long-term extension of Violence Against Women Act GOP super PAC drops .5 million on Nevada ad campaign 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 FrelinghuysenTrump endorses Republican candidate in key NJ House race On The Money: Lawmakers get deal to avoid shutdown | House panel approves 'tax cuts 2.0' bill | Jobless claims hold steady near 49-year low Congress sends first spending package to Trump in push to avert shutdown MORE (R-N.J.) said he would leave Congress right in the middle of his tenure, a trio of Republicans — Reps. Robert AderholtRobert Brown AderholtHealthy business vs healthy people — how will this administration address the two? The stakes are sky-high for the pro-life cause in the upcoming midterms Adoption Provider Act is about religious freedom — not same-sex adoption MORE (R-Ala.), Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerThe stakes are sky-high for the pro-life cause in the upcoming midterms Bipartisanship alive and well, protecting critical infrastructure McCarthy's path to Speaker gets more complicated MORE (R-Texas) and Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeConservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Overnight Health Care: House GOP blocks Trump-backed drug pricing provision | Maryland sues to protect ObamaCare | Insurers offer help to hurricane-impacted areas House GOP blocks Trump-supported drug pricing provision from spending bill MORE (R-Okla.) — quickly launched campaigns to replace him.

A fourth, Rep. Mike SimpsonMIchael (Mike) Keith SimpsonOvernight Energy: Trump reportedly set to weaken methane rule | Exxon appeals climate case to Supreme Court | California commits to 100 percent clean energy | Tribes sue over Keystone XL pipeline Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog to probe Superfund panel | Zinke opens more wildlife refuges to hunting | House to vote on energy spending bill next week GOP shrugs off Trump shutdown threat MORE (R-Idaho), said that same day he was seriously thinking about joining the race. And Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesThe stakes are sky-high for the pro-life cause in the upcoming midterms Dem senator: Congress should consider allowing companies to 'hack back' after cyberattacks House completes first half of 2019 spending bills 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 JordanHillicon Valley: Trump cyber strategy lets US go on offense | AT&T urges court to let Time Warner merger stand | Conservatives want wife of DOJ official to testify | Facebook, nonprofits team up to fight fake news | DC camera hacker pleads guilty FBI memos detail ‘partisan axes,’ secret conflicts behind the Russia election meddling assessment Republicans threaten to subpoena Nellie Ohr MORE (R-Ohio) and Reps. Mark SanfordMarshall (Mark) Clement SanfordMulvaney: Trump regularly asks why Roy Moore lost Dems vow to grab Trump tax returns upon taking majority Insurgency shakes up Democratic establishment MORE (R-S.C.), Justin AmashJustin AmashRand Paul ramps up his alliance with Trump Ethics watchdog requests probe into Trump officials traveling to campaign events Kavanaugh’s views on privacy, Fourth Amendment should make Republicans think twice MORE (R-Mich.), Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarGOP lawmaker's mother sides with him after siblings endorse opponent GOP lawmaker blasts siblings who backed Dem rival: 'Stalin would be proud' GOP lawmaker's siblings endorse Dem opponent: 'Difficult to see my brother as anything but a racist' MORE (R-Ariz.) and Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.). Current Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsRepublicans threaten to subpoena Nellie Ohr Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Graham to renew call for second special counsel 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: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Trump's Puerto Rico tweets spark backlash 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.