House Natural Resources gives Grijalva power to subpoena Interior

House Natural Resources gives Grijalva power to subpoena Interior
© Greg Nash

The House Natural Resources Committee voted Wednesday to give Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) the power to subpoena the Department of the Interior after Republicans scored a significant win that limited the chairman’s power. 

The 21-15 party-line vote represents a new chapter in the committee’s ongoing battle to gain a number of documents from Interior, as Grijalva will now be able to compel them.

“This stonewalling needs to end,” Grijalva told members, saying Interior had treated the committee’s oversight authority with a “cavalier attitude.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“This committee has to establish itself as a coequal. We’re not here as house plants to be cared for and watered when the administration decides it’s time,” Grijalva said.

Some of the first subpoenas that might be issued by the committee include those seeking documents on the controversial relocation of the Bureau of Land Management and those on Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s connections to former clients.

But with the adoption of a hard-fought amendment from Republicans, Grijalva will have to alert ranking member Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits | House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals | Watchdog faults EPA communications in contamination of NC river House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals Tensions emerge on Natural Resources panel over virtual meetings MORE (R-Utah) about any subpoena he seeks, and members would be able to request a vote on subpoenas before they are issued.

That may matter little to Bernhardt, who tweeted that Interior has already provided thousands of pages of documents to the committee.

“Today’s action by the House Natural Resources Committee demonstrates they won’t let the facts stand in the way of their rhetoric. Going forward, the Department will take today’s action into account for every decision it makes to deal with this committee. Godspeed with the witch hunt,” he tweeted.

ADVERTISEMENT

While Interior has boasted of its good working relationship with members, the committee says the department has completed just two of its 26 requests, with the rest marked incomplete or nonresponsive.

Members have expressed bipartisan irritation at delays in getting documents, including at a hearing during which monitors flashed heavily redacted documents produced by Interior.

Grijalva has been weighing subpoena power for months, saying in September he would begin to more seriously pursue backing from fellow Democrats.

“To continue the same practice where this committee is essentially ignored, where the majority’s requests are ignored, and when witnesses come ill-prepared and without information and then information that's requested at a meeting in public is not forthcoming, those began to accumulate. We have reached the accumulation point, my friends,” Grijalva said during Wednesday’s mark up.

But Republicans cautioned against approving a subpoena resolution that would place so much power in the chairman’s hands, arguing it could trample minority rights and hurt Democrats down the line.

“Rules aren’t the only things that change. Majorities change. These days they change quite often. ... And a year from now, you may be facing a Republican chairman using this new authority and issuing subpoenas without consulting you,” said Rep. Tom McClintockThomas (Tom) Milller McClintockTensions emerge on Natural Resources panel over virtual meetings Top conservatives pen letter to Trump with concerns on fourth coronavirus relief bill Hispanic Caucus campaign arm unveils non-Hispanic endorsements MORE (R-Calif.).

“You may find subpoenas being issued to every left-wing NGO, green energy crony capitalist, every ideological zealot in the bureaucracy with no opportunity for you to question or protest. I can’t say I find that prospect altogether unappealing,” he said. “But before you vote, you might want to consider Clint Eastwood's famous question: 'Do you feel lucky?' ”

Democrats later agreed to the measures that would give the ranking member and rank and file members more power to weigh in on subpoenas, but voted down an amendment that would have excluded non-Interior or administration officials from being called to testify. 

Even with a major concession to Republicans, no minority member voted for the subpoena resolution, arguing it would antagonize Interior and too closely modeled the recent impeachment hearings.

“A typical oversight investigation is supposed to involve multiple steps with the issuance of a subpoena being the very last resort. We saw this with Judiciary and it led to an article of impeachment,” said Rep. Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertConservative lawmakers press Trump to suspend guest worker programs for a year Gohmert rails against allowing proxy voting over 'wishy washy' fear of dying Positive coronavirus cases shake White House MORE (R-Texas), referencing the House Judiciary Committee.

Updated at 2:24 p.m.