Ethics panel opens probe into Rep. Watkins after voter fraud charges
Pelosi fills out Democratic roster on coronavirus oversight panel
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday filled out the Democratic roster on a special committee overseeing coronavirus relief spending, naming six new members to the newly created panel, including some of President Trump's harshest congressional critics.
The announcement is a clear signal that Democratic leaders intend to conduct aggressive oversight of the Trump administration's coronavirus spending - a process occurring in the midst of an election year - as trillions of dollars go out the door.
The panel, created by a party-line vote last week, will be led by Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the Democratic whip. In a letter to Democrats Wednesday, Pelosi named six additional members: Reps. Maxine Waters (Calif.), Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.), Nydia Velázquez (N.Y.), Bill Foster (Ill.), Jamie Raskin (Md.) and Andy Kim (N.J.).
Democrats are billing the panel as a commonsense safeguard to ensure that the historic levels of emergency funding - money designed to prop up businesses, workers, families and medical providers most affected by the coronavirus fallout - aren't frittered away by fraud and abuse.
"We must be sure that the money we put forth goes to those who need it most, in a way that addresses disparities in access to health care and credit," Pelosi wrote in her letter. "We also owe it to the American people to prevent waste, fraud and abuse and to protect against price-gouging and profiteering."
The oversight panel, Pelosi says, is modeled on the Truman Committee, the bipartisan, 1940s panel headed by then-Sen. Harry Truman (D-Mo.), which was formed to rein in fraud and profiteering among federal contractors during World War II.
Yet Clyburn's oversight committee is already shaping up to be a distinctly more partisan enterprise than its historic predecessor.
Although the parties have united to approve almost $3 trillion in emergency relief since the start of March, they're already clashing over the design, intention and necessity of the Clyburn panel.
Congress last month had created a five-member panel of bipartisan lawmakers charged with overseeing hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout loans for corporations. And that enormous relief package also created a separate panel of inspectors general, as well as a third oversight post: the special inspector general for pandemic recovery.
With that in mind, Republican leaders in Congress and the White House have said the Clyburn committee is both redundant and politically motivated. They're accusing Democrats of establishing the panel merely to embarrass Trump in the months leading up to November's elections - a debate that's the mirror image of that over the GOP's special Benghazi committee, which investigated Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the 2016 elections.
"Instead of looking for innovative ways to help the American people, Speaker Pelosi has chosen to pursue 'impeachment 2.0' with a partisan and unnecessary oversight committee," a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told The Hill.
"The roster the Speaker has chosen makes clear that this is not an honest effort at transparency and accountability, but rather another attempt to politically damage the Trump administration."
Fueling those accusations has been Pelosi's picks for the oversight panel. Waters, for instance, has called for Trump's impeachment since before he was sworn into office. Raskin, a constitutional law expert, had also been on the front-lines of the impeachment push.
And Clyburn has come under fire during the coronavirus crisis after he allegedly told Democrats on a private phone call that they should use the emergency response as an "opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision."
Some Republicans are already speculating that McCarthy will respond by refusing to have Republicans participate on the panel at all.
"My bet is - no," one Republican told The Hill. "Kevin has been adamant not to play on that field. To make them look like it is just a hatchet job. We have something like nine oversight committees already."
Appearing Wednesday in the basement of the virtually empty Capitol, Pelosi and Clyburn both dismissed the notion that the new oversight panel is a political tool, framing the additional oversight as a simple matter of constitutional responsibility.
"Congress has a constitutional duty and a moral responsibility to ensure that these $2 trillion-plus in taxpayer money be spent wisely and properly," Clyburn said. "The American people deserve it, and they expect it."
Pelosi emphasized the distinction between examining the administration's initial preparedness for the coronavirus pandemic, as some lawmakers are proposing, and monitoring the trillions of dollars in emergency relief to protect taxpayers. The Clyburn panel, she said, is focused only on the latter.
"After-action review is after action," she said. "We're still in the action."
Pelosi also rejected the GOP charges of political gamesmanship, noting that Republicans, when they controlled the House, had created select committees to examine both Planned Parenthood and Clinton's role in the deadly Benghazi attack - issues much more partisan than emergency spending for a global pandemic that's already killed almost 60,000 people in the United States alone.
"So their so-called reasoning," Pelosi said, "doesn't seem to apply by their own experience."
Juliegrace Brufke contributed.
-- Updated at 3:51 p.m.