House Dems preview plans to flex oversight muscles

House Dems preview plans to flex oversight muscles
© Greg Nash

A trio of likely House committee chairmen and prospective Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi slated to deliver remarks during panel hearing on poverty The DNC's climate problems run deep Cracks form in Democratic dam against impeachment MORE (D-Calif.) on Sunday laid out their oversight investigation strategy.

Democrats secured sweeping victories this month in House races to secure a majority in the lower chamber of Congress. The party will soon wield the ability to launch investigations and subpoena witnesses as a result, setting up a potentially acrimonious next two years with the White House.

Democrats on Sunday previewed some of those likely investigations, starting with whether Trump's actions impact special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE’s investigation and including possible interference with the media and the census. The White House is also likely bracing for investigations into Trump’s tax returns and possible violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), likely the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, set the stage for an immediate fight between Democrats and the White House when he signaled he would call on acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to appear before lawmakers. 

“Our very first witness on — after Jan. 3 — we will subpoena ... or we will summon, if necessary, subpoena Mr. Whitaker,” Nadler said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

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Nadler questioned Whitaker’s qualifications for the job, and highlighted his past comments in support of curbing Mueller’s investigation.

"The president's dismissal of Attorney General Sessions, and his appointment of Whitaker, who is a complete political lackey, is a real threat to the integrity of that investigation," Nadler said. "That investigation is of utmost importance in making sure that we adhere to the rule of law and that the administration is held accountable." 

Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayTrump invites Sarah Sanders onstage at rally after touting her as potential governor Trump invites Sarah Sanders onstage at rally after touting her as potential governor Mellman: Eroding the rule of law MORE, counselor to the president, said on "Fox News Sunday" that the president is ready to work with Democrats on trade, immigration and infrastructure.

"But that's a question for the Democrats, too," she said. "Are they going to be investigating or legislating? Are they going to be trying to impeach him or talk about infrastructure?"

Pelosi, who has repeatedly expressed confidence in her chances of being elected Speaker despite some internal resistance, said the party will be "strategic" in how it carries out investigations. She insisted the party would not use its newfound majority to investigate for political purposes, but rather "to seek truth."

"We are coming to do something that is very important for our country; a more open Congress with accountability to the public, with a seeking bipartisanship where we can find it, stand our ground where we can't," she said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senator introduces bill to hold online platforms liable for political bias Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally MORE has appeared hostile to the threat of Democrats investigating his White House, warning that he would adopt a "warlike posture" if necessary. He has suggested he would respond to Democratic probes in the House by enlisting the GOP-controlled Senate to conduct investigations of its own.

House Democratic leaders will additionally be forced to deal with factions within their own party. Some lawmakers have already supported efforts to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump, but top ranking Democrats on Sunday were careful to balance their intent to conduct oversight with their desire to deal with the White House on legislative priorities.

Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsCummings requests interview with Census official over new allegations on citizenship question Cummings requests interview with Census official over new allegations on citizenship question Top Dems question legal basis for appointing Cuccinelli as temporary immigration chief MORE (D-Md.), the likely incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, rattled off the Trump administration's efforts to add a citizenship question to the census, the relocation of the FBI building and drug prices as priorities for the committee in the next session of Congress.

However, he cautioned that he would be hesitant to resort to subpoenas to get answers.

"I'm not going to be handing out subpoenas like somebody's handing out candy on Halloween … I take subpoenas very seriously," Cummings said on ABC's This Week."

"And I plan to, if I have to use them, they will be used in a methodical way and it must be in the public's interest," he added.

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHouse votes against curtailing warrantless collection of Americans' data Overnight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Cracks form in Democratic dam against impeachment MORE (D-Calif.), ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, cautioned on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the party’s message on issues like health care can’t get lost amid a flurry of potential subpoenas and investigations. 

"Let's face it, the investigations are sexy. They're interesting," Schiff said. “The legislative process is less so. It's much less dramatic. But nonetheless, in terms of importance to the American people making sure that they can provide for their families, that they can get health care, they can keep their health care, that has to be priority number one." 

Schiff has been among Trump’s most outspoken critics, and has indicated previously that he intends to restart the committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He added on Sunday that his committee would hold Whitaker accountable if the new acting attorney general attempts to influence Mueller's investigation in any way.

He also told "Axios on HBO" in an episode airing later Sunday that the House will investigate if Trump used "instruments of state power to punish the press."

Reps.-elect Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.), who defeated Republican incumbents on Tuesday, emphasized that Democrats need to carry out their oversight role in the next session of Congress, but neither cited it as the key issue they will be focused on.

"We can walk and chew gum," Slotkin said on NBC. "We can protect American values and hold accountability for the executive branch, but if we can't do things on health care and infrastructure, we're going to lose people, especially in the Midwest."