Meet the Republican at the center of the House GOP’s investigations into Biden

Rep. James Comer, one of the most powerful House Republicans in the new majority, faces a delicate challenge as he takes the reins of the Oversight and Accountability Committee: showing substance with the spectacle.

Comer (R-Ky.) leads a panel at the heart of House Republicans’ investigatory responsibilities. It’s also a panel stacked with firebrand GOP personalities consumed with digging into hot-button issues surrounding President Biden’s administration and family.

“We will be the committee with all the newsmakers,” Comer said.

The panel’s Republicans include Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Paul Gosar (Ariz.), who won their assignments back after being punted from the panel by Democrats in the last Congress.

Reps. Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Scott Perry (Pa.), three more fiery conservatives who withheld support from Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) during his drawn-out battle to win his post, also sit on Oversight.

At the center of it all is Comer, who is not as well-known on the national stage as some of the Republicans he’s leading but is likely to become much more famous through the course of the year.

Comer shows no shyness when it comes to going after Biden and Democrats or defending the personalities on his panel.

“I believe that we’ve had the conversations that it is important that we’re a credible, factual committee,” Comer said. “The fact that we have a lot of people with a lot of passion is a good thing.”

He added that Democrats “have some firebrands on their side as well,” pointing out that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) will be second to ranking member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) on the committee.

Moving under the spotlight

Sebastian Gorka, the conservative commentator and former Trump White House adviser, questioned Comer’s ability to effectively lead probes into Hunter Biden’s business dealings last year:

“Nobody’s ever heard of him,” Gorka said.

That is quickly changing.

Comer is now a frequent cable news guest, weighing in on revelations of classified documents in Biden’s personal office and home and rebuffing questions about why his panel is not focusing on investigating influence-peddling among members of former President Trump’s family in addition to Biden’s.

Trump, Comer says, was already extensively investigated by congressional Democrats, and this will be the first time Republicans have subpoena power to dig into Biden.

“He is new to a lot of people. But he is as MAGA, he is as Trump. … He doesn’t talk with the same bravado that [House Judiciary Committee Chairman] Jim Jordan does, but he’s following that same playbook,” said Brad Woodhouse, a senior advisor for the Congressional Integrity Project, a left-wing advocacy group that aims to counter House GOP investigations.

“We don’t believe he’s a credible investigator or that he has played fair with these issues.”

Comer, of course, disagrees.

“I think there’s a lot of people watching the committee,” Comer said. “Congressional oversight doesn’t have a lot of credibility for various reasons, so we want to try to restore credibility to congressional oversight in general, but congressional investigations in particular.”

Right at the center of things

The House Oversight and Accountability Committee is at the center of the biggest House GOP investigatory priorities, many of which have been the focus for Republicans on the committee long before the midterm elections. 

An investigation into Hunter Biden’s business dealings aims to determine whether the president misrepresented his knowledge of foreign deals and funds. A select subcommittee on COVID-19 will probe the origins of the virus. Policies at the U.S.-Mexico border will also be a major focus.

On Wednesday, the committee will hold its first hearing on waste, fraud and abuse in COVID relief programs, such as Paycheck Protection Problem loans. Next week, it will host former Twitter executives to discuss suppression of a New York Post story on Hunter Biden, as well as a hearing on the border.

One House GOP staff member said that Comer has thus far managed to keep good relationships across the conference, from the hard-right House Freedom Caucus rabble-rousers to congressional leadership.

Comer said he talks frequently with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a fellow GOP Kentuckian. The two often sit beside each other while waiting to board a plane to or from Washington. 

Trump won Comer’s district by more than 40 points in the 2020 election, but Comer voted to certify all the Electoral College results on Jan. 6, 2021.

“It wasn’t the right political vote, but I think it was the right vote,” Comer said at a National Press Club event this week. 

Under attack

Left-wing outside groups like the Congressional Integrity Project and Facts First USA, described in an October memo as a “SWAT Team to Counter Republican Congressional Investigations,” are tying him to the fringes of the GOP by virtue of him having so many election deniers on his committee, as well as the subject of his investigations.

“I think he’s seen as maybe not as out there as some of the others, or even like Jim Jordan. But what’s really controlling him is the MAGA caucus, and so they’re going to tug him in whichever way, in the most extreme direction,” said Facts First USA President David Brock.

Comer is brushing off the swipes. “I don’t know where they get some of their information. I guess they pull it out of the rear end,” he told The Hill of the messaging from those organizations. 

At the National Press Club event, Comer recalled a story about former Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), who was the ranking member on the Watergate committee, responding to frustration from the Republican base about how hard he was on President Nixon. Baker calmly responded that while Nixon may not have ordered the break-in, “he certainly lied about it, and tried to cover it up.”

“That is something that has always stuck with me,” Comer said.

A father of three

Comer, now 50, is a father of three — two teenagers and one preteen — with a “very supportive wife” who he said was “a very important part of [my] political rise.” He is a “huge golfer” and loves watching his son play baseball.

You won’t catch House GOP members calling him “James.” Jamie is a nickname he has had since birth, and what everyone in his hometown calls him.

A farm owner and a former bank director, Comer got involved in politics at a young age.

“I always was interested in politics. Both my grandfathers were active in politics,” Comer said. 

His paternal grandfather was a local county party chair in rural Kentucky, and his maternal grandfather, Kenneth Witcher, was a two-term state representative just across the state line in Tennessee. 

“They watched the news and read the newspaper. They had pictures with prominent politicians on their wall, and I have a lot of those pictures in my office — pictures with both of my granddads with President Nixon, with President Ford,” Comer said. 

Comer followed in their footsteps and built a career as a young Republican, becoming chair of the Monroe County, Ky., Republican Party soon after graduating from Western Kentucky University and then a delegate to the 1996 Republican National Convention. In 2000, at the age of 27, Comer was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives.

He rose to be elected Kentucky agriculture commissioner in 2012, the only Republican elected statewide that year. The Democrats, he said, “were always ganging up on me and doing things to try to limit my success rate.”

As he steps into the role of being a top antagonist to Democrats, Comer says he hopes to find some common ground across the aisle. He recalled working well with former House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) on a postal reform bill and has expressed hopes of working with Raskin on legislation to address how presidential and vice presidential offices ensure they do not improperly retain classified documents after they leave office.

Raskin and Comer did not enter the new Congress with a close relationship, with each Jamie describing their relationship with the other as “cordial.” And there are sure to be plenty of opportunities for clashes.

“If the majority is going to promote agendas that depend on conspiracy theory and distortion, we will act as a truth squad,” Raskin said in December soon after winning a contest to be the top Democrat on the panel.

But any tension is, so far, not personal, with Comer expressing well-wishes to Raskin — who disclosed a cancer diagnosis in December — at an organizing hearing for the committee on Tuesday. 

“We’re all rooting for you. We know that you’re going to win this battle. You’re in our thoughts and prayers,” Comer told Raskin.

Tags Andy Biggs Donald Trump House Oversight Committee Hunter Biden James Comer James Comer Kevin McCarthy Lauren Boebert Marjorie Taylor Greene Paul Gosar President Joe Biden Scott Perry

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