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 GowdyThe family secret Bruce Ohr told Rod Rosenstein about Russia case Trey Gowdy joins Fox News as a contributor Congress must take the next steps on federal criminal justice reforms 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 TrumpJustice Department preparing for Mueller report as soon as next week: reports Smollett lawyers declare 'Empire' star innocent Pelosi asks members to support resolution against emergency declaration MORE, who strikes back fiercely at critics.

Former Oversight Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzTop Utah paper knocks Chaffetz as he mulls run for governor: ‘His political career should be over’ Boehner working on memoir: report Former GOP lawmaker on death of 7-year-old migrant girl: Message should be ‘don't make this journey, it will kill you' 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 Russell5 themes to watch for in 2020 fight for House Oklahoma New Members 2019 Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — First lady's office pushes for ouster of national security aide | Trump taps retired general as ambassador to Saudis | Mattis to visit border troops | Record number of female veterans to serve in Congress 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 — Shutdown fallout — economic distress Former congressmen, RNC members appointed to Trump administration roles Senate throws hundreds of Trump nominees into limbo 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 DeSantisOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Drug pricing fight centers on insulin | Florida governor working with Trump to import cheaper drugs | Dems blast proposed ObamaCare changes Florida GOP governor working with Trump to import cheaper drugs from Canada DeSantis formally asks Trump to base Space Command in Florida MORE is running for Florida governor this cycle.

And a former member of leadership, Rep. Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxBlack Caucus sees power grow with new Democratic majority A 2 billion challenge: Transforming US grant reporting Trump calls North Carolina redistricting ruling ‘unfair’ 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 RyanThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race McCabe: No one in 'Gang of Eight' objected to FBI probe into Trump Unscripted Trump keeps audience guessing in Rose Garden 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 FrelinghuysenTop House GOP appropriations staffer moves to lobbying shop Individuals with significant disabilities need hope and action Exiting lawmakers jockey for K Street perch 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 accused of MeToo hypocrisy in Virginia Granger to serve as ranking member of House Appropriations Committee Earmarks look to be making a comeback MORE (R-Ala.), Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerOn The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week How the border deal came together Winners and losers in the border security deal MORE (R-Texas) and Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeGOP dismisses polls showing losing battle on shutdown Bottom Line Dems hit GOP on health care with additional ObamaCare lawsuit vote MORE (R-Okla.) — quickly launched campaigns to replace him.

A fourth, Rep. Mike SimpsonMIchael (Mike) Keith SimpsonPress: Democrats dare to think big Dem chairwoman seeks watchdog probe of Park Service’s shutdown operations House votes on 10th bill to reopen government MORE (R-Idaho), said that same day he was seriously thinking about joining the race. And Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesHouse passes border deal, setting up Trump to declare emergency Lawmakers introduce bill to fund government, prevent shutdown The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - Next 24 hours critical for stalled funding talks 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 JordanWhite House, GOP defend Trump emergency declaration Rod Rosenstein’s final insult to Congress: Farewell time for reporters but not testimony House conservatives blast border deal, push Trump to use executive power MORE (R-Ohio) and Reps. Mark SanfordMarshall (Mark) Clement SanfordEndorsing Trump isn’t the easiest decision for some Republicans Mark Sanford warns US could see ‘Hitler-like character’ in the future House passes year-end tax package MORE (R-S.C.), Justin AmashJustin AmashBusiness, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration House approves motion condemning anti-Semitism Schiff: Intel chiefs testimony may ‘undermine’ Trump’s ability to declare emergency for wall MORE (R-Mich.), Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarHouse passes bill expressing support for NATO McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader On The Money: Trump says he won't declare emergency 'so fast' | Shutdown poised to become longest in history | Congress approves back pay for workers | More federal unions sue over shutdown MORE (R-Ariz.) and Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.). Current Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight Winners and losers in the border security deal GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration 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 WalkerPartnerships paving the way to sustain and support Historically Black Colleges and Universities Lawmaker seeks to ban ex-members from lobbying until sexual harassment settlements repaid Florida governor suspends Palm Beach County elections supervisor 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.