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 GowdyHouse Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report Democrats put harassment allegations against Trump on back burner Democrats seize on Mueller-Barr friction 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 TrumpNASA exec leading moon mission quits weeks after appointment The Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' MORE, who strikes back fiercely at critics.

Former Oversight Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzRepublicans spend more than million at Trump properties House Dems seek to make officials feel the pain Lawmakers contemplate a tough political sell: Raising their pay 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 RossEx-GOP lawmaker joins family firm  Ex-GOP lawmaker joins Florida lobbying firm Incoming GOP lawmaker says he may have violated campaign finance law 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 IssaFive times presidents sparked controversy using executive privilege GOP plots comeback in Orange County The Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress 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 DeSantisDHS official: Florida one of the 'best' states on election security, despite 2016 Russian hack Florida teacher arrested for loaded gun in backpack told reporter: 'Ask DeSantis' Trump officials not sending migrants to Florida after backlash MORE is running for Florida governor this cycle.

And a former member of leadership, Rep. Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxThe GOP's commitment to electing talented women can help party retake the House When disaster relief hurts Lobbying World 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 RyanAmash storm hits Capitol Hill Debate with Donald Trump? Just say no Ex-Trump adviser says GOP needs a better health-care message for 2020 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 AderholtDems advance bill defying Trump State Department cuts Maryland raises legal tobacco purchasing age to 21 Anti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age MORE (R-Ala.), Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerDemocrats advance more spending bills, defying Trump budget requests Chances for disaster aid deal slip amid immigration fight Overnight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds MORE (R-Texas) and Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeEx-GOP lawmaker pens op-ed calling for Trump to be impeached House panel approves language revoking 2001 war authority as Iran tensions spike Conservatives ask White House to abandon Amazon talks over Pentagon contract 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 GravesRepublicans spend more than million at Trump properties Congressional panel calls for lobbying disclosure reforms Mnuchin tells Congress it's 'premature' to talk about Trump tax returns decision 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 JordanRepublicans spend more than million at Trump properties GOP lawmakers lay out border security proposals for DHS Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers seek 'time out' on facial recognition tech | DHS asks cybersecurity staff to volunteer for border help | Judge rules Qualcomm broke antitrust law | Bill calls for 5G national security strategy MORE (R-Ohio) and Reps. Mark SanfordMarshall (Mark) Clement SanfordAmash storm hits Capitol Hill Clash with Trump marks latest break with GOP leaders for Justin Amash WANTED: A Republican with courage MORE (R-S.C.), Justin AmashJustin AmashEx-GOP lawmaker pens op-ed calling for Trump to be impeached On The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers Amash: Some of Trump's actions 'were inherently corrupt' MORE (R-Mich.), Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarGOP lawmakers lay out border security proposals for DHS House Freedom Caucus votes to condemn Amash's impeachment comments Amash storm hits Capitol Hill MORE (R-Ariz.) and Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.). Current Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsHillicon Valley: Lawmakers seek 'time out' on facial recognition tech | DHS asks cybersecurity staff to volunteer for border help | Judge rules Qualcomm broke antitrust law | Bill calls for 5G national security strategy Lawmakers call for 'time out' on facial recognition tech DeVos family of Michigan ends support for Amash 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 WalkerThe Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan NCAA to consider allowing student athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness Members spar over sexual harassment training deadline 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.