House Democrats are making oversight great again

House Democrats are making oversight great again
© Greg Nash

Oversight is a most American value. Our corporations have shareholders; our non-profits have boards of directors; and our politicians have voters. When oversight is robust, flawed decision-making is revealed and corrected. Our founding fathers understood this point. A president without anyone to review his or her actions is a president destined to fail, with the country not far behind.

That is why our founders not only created a Congress in the first section of the first Article of the Constitution, but also gave it the power of the purse, the power of taxation, the power of impeachment — and by extension — the power of the subpoena. 


Yet, for the past two years, Congressional Republicans coddled the Trump administration and failed to use any of these democratic tools on our country’s behalf. From terminating Senate minority rights to force a deeply flawed Supreme Court nominee onto the country’s highest court to blocking even minor protections for the Mueller team’s investigation into a foreign adversaries’ attack on our democracy, the Republican Congress neither did the American people any favors nor lived up to the expectations of our country’s founders.

Fortunately, this has now changed, as the period of Congressional passivity the country experienced these last two years is mercifully over. Now that the Democrats have the gavel, the American people are once again benefitting from the wisdom of our founding fathers, who knew that a president without oversight would be a danger to us all.

And the Republican Party is not responding well to the blowback provoked by their having allowed President TrumpDonald John TrumpNearly 300 former national security officials sign Biden endorsement letter DC correspondent on the death of Michael Reinoehl: 'The folks I know in law enforcement are extremely angry about it' Late night hosts targeted Trump over Biden 97 percent of the time in September: study MORE to rule without question for the last two years.

In fact, what Congress is doing now is doubling-down on their obsequiousness to the president, ignoring their constitutional obligations. For example, instead of rejecting the president’s false State of the Union claim that oversight of him would lead to war and an end of government function, they embraced it. And instead of condemning the president’s appropriations power-grab to build his unpopular wall, they turned their gaze from both him and the Constitution and are about to affirm it.

The founders must be spinning in their graves. 

The irony is that it was the Republican Party itself that turned congressional investigations into a warlike affair, beginning with Newt Gingrich and his attacks on the Clinton administration. Gingrich’s Congress sought to weaken the Democratic president when Republicans impeached Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonLate night hosts targeted Trump over Biden 97 percent of the time in September: study A closing argument: Why voters cannot trust Trump on healthcare On India, the US must think bigger MORE in the late 1990s. Later, congressional Republicans followed suit by seeking to destroy the Obama presidency and undercut the potential Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonLate night hosts targeted Trump over Biden 97 percent of the time in September: study 10 steps toward better presidential debating Continuity is (mostly) on the menu for government contracting in the next administration MORE presidential campaign through endless investigations into the Benghazi killings.

But these tactics only went in one direction, and now that congressional Republicans can no longer block oversight, they’re attacking the Democratic right to even hold investigations. They call Democrats “vicious” and “vengeful” just for doing the job that the framers of the Constitution required. And they argue, without evidence, that Democrats want to bring the government to its knees and prevent Trump from governing.

In a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black, Republicans know that their aggressive investigations didn’t stop the government from functioning either during the Clinton impeachment trial or the Obama Benghazi investigations. Their protests belie the truth that they must understand: They are in no way ready for the onslaught of investigations about to commence. 

Perhaps Republicans are also still in shock from their losses in the last election. It’s likely that they believed they would never again lose control of a chamber of Congress, considering how gerrymandered their unnatural House majority was. But the American people came out this past November to vote in their largest numbers in a midterm election in more than a century, demanding the check on Trump that the Republicans were failing to provide.


House Republicans are now in the wilderness, forced to lick their wounds while watching Democrats do the work that they should have been doing themselves for the past two years.

Just like exercise is healthy for the human body, so is oversight healthy for the American body politic. The past two years have been very unhealthy for the American people and it’s time for Congress to get off the couch.

So as House Democrats make oversight great again, tough questions will be the feature, not the bug, of these efforts. Congress has finally begun to root out what is working and what isn’t; to highlight incompetence and corruption; and to expose what needs to be known today by the American people — just as the framers of our Constitution wanted. 

Joel Rubin is the president of Washington Strategy Group, a national security and foreign policy strategic advisory firm. He's also a partner at Democracy Partners and was the Obama administration’s deputy assistant secretary of State for House of Representatives Affairs. You can follow him at @joelmartinrubin.