House gavel with impeachment power up for grabs

The House Judiciary Committee is losing its chairman next year, creating an unusually wide-open race for one of the most powerful gavels in Congress.

Behind Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteFight breaks out between Jordan, Nadler over rules about showing video at Garland hearing The job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line MORE (R-Va.), who is retiring at the end of his term, is a deeply unsettled committee bench whose senior ranks have been decimated by retirements.

This likely means that several candidates will jockey to take over leadership of the committee, which has sprawling jurisdiction over issues like gun control, surveillance law and patent reform.

“As you go down the dais, there’s not a clear heir apparent chairman,” said one Republican aide closely tracking the race.

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Change is also coming to the Democratic side of the panel, where the ranking member slot is up for grabs due to the resignation of Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersDetroit voters back committee to study reparations The faith community can help pass a reparations bill California comes to terms with the costs and consequences of slavery MORE Jr. (D-Mich.). If Democrats win back the House next year, the ranking member would likely become Judiciary chairman in 2019.

That means that, one way or another, there will soon be a dramatic reshaping of a committee that Goodlatte has run with an iron fist. 

One of the Republicans considering a bid for the gavel is Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsLobbying world Sunday shows preview: Biden administration confronts inflation spike Jan. 6 panel weighs contempt charges for former Trump DOJ official Clark MORE (R-Ga.), a well-liked member of House GOP leadership who is far less senior than several of his colleagues who are also eyeing the job.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (R-S.C.) is also seen as a strong contender, but to take over Judiciary he would have to give up the Oversight gavel that he took up just six months ago, when Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzCongress's latest hacking investigation should model its most recent Fox News Audio expands stable of podcasts by adding five new shows The myth of the conservative bestseller MORE (R-Utah) retired.

Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaProposed California maps put incumbents in jeopardy Bipartisan lawmakers target judges' stock trading with new bill How lawmakers aided the Afghan evacuation MORE (R-Calif.) wants the Judiciary position, but he faces a tough reelection race next year in a district that is trending toward Democrats. Even if Issa wins another term, it’s an open question whether House leadership would support his bid, given his tumultuous tenure as Oversight chairman during the Obama administration.

The most senior member of Judiciary weighing a run is Rep. Steve ChabotSteven (Steve) Joseph ChabotFraming our future beyond the climate crisis Liberal group launches campaign urging Republicans to support Biden's agenda Blinken grilled in first hearing since Afghanistan withdrawal MORE (R-Ohio), who currently chairs the House Small Business Committee. But Chabot is also in a strong position to seek the House Foreign Affairs Committee gavel, another panel he says he’s interested in leading.

Those tracking the Judiciary race say one of the House Freedom Caucus members on the committee might also make a play for the chairmanship, but it’s unlikely they would get the backing of House leadership. Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanWith extreme gerrymanders locking in, Biden needs to make democracy preservation job one Jim Jordan reveals he had COVID-19 this summer The Memo: Gosar censured, but toxic culture grows MORE (R-Ohio), the former chairman of the Freedom Caucus whom many in the group wanted to become Oversight chairman, declined to comment on the Judiciary race this week. 

Judiciary is stacked with Freedom Caucus lawmakers, but some of the other more senior members are already out of the running. Rep. Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksOn The Trail: Arizona is microcosm of battle for the GOP Arizona New Members 2019 Cook shifts 8 House races toward Dems MORE (R-Ariz.) abruptly resigned on Friday over allegations of inappropriate conduct with staff, and Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) is running for governor of his home state in 2018.

Behind Goodlatte in seniority is Rep. Jim SensenbrennerFrank (Jim) James SensenbrennerProtecting the fundamental right of all Americans to have access to the voting booth Republicans compare Ron Johnson to Joe McCarthy: NYT GOP puts pressure on Pelosi over Swalwell MORE (R-Wis.), a former chairman of the committee. But although the rules permit Sensenbrenner to seek the position for a second time, he will not do so, according to an aide.

Each of the lawmakers eyeing the post cautioned that it was still far too early to set their strategy — “I have no idea what I’m going to have for supper tonight,” quipped Gowdy — but the early positioning has begun.

Collins, at least, said he has gotten some “encouragement” from the Steering Committee, which will choose the next chairman. But when the time comes, there will be a new bench on that 32-member panel, largely made up of leadership loyalists.

The wild card, aides watching the nascent race say, will be Gowdy. For now, the 53-year-old former prosecutor — a top leadership ally — is keeping his options open.

Gowdy, who rose to prominence as the head of the Select Committee on Benghazi, is one of three Republicans leading the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the election. His Oversight Committee also recently announced a joint investigation with the Intelligence panel into the 2010 sale of a Canadian mining company with holdings in the U.S. to Russia.

But speaking to The Hill on Thursday, Gowdy left little doubt where his preferences lie.

“If [House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' MORE (R-Wis.)] came to me and said ‘You can only have one committee, I’m going to take the other three away from you,’ as much as I love [Intelligence] and Oversight, I would say 'give me Judiciary,' ” he said.

Whoever takes over Judiciary after Goodlatte’s departure will inherit a swath of hot-button issues — including the responsibility for impeachment proceedings against federal officials.

Some Democrats have openly called for the House to initiate impeachment proceedings for President TrumpDonald TrumpStowaway found in landing gear of plane after flight from Guatemala to Miami Kushner looking to Middle East for investors in new firm: report GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips MORE, a non-starter under Republican leadership.

But encouraged by a national election sweep in local races across the country last month, Democrats are increasingly bullish about their chances of claiming the 24 seats they would need to regain the majority next year.

Should Democrats win back the House, the push for impeaching Trump could be intense. On Wednesday, 58 Democrats voted in favor of an impeachment resolution, and many said they aren’t ruling out supporting impeachment once the results of the various Russia investigations become public.

That leaves open the question of who would preside over such an effort.

Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenLofgren: Many Jan. 6 panel witnesses are former Trump officials One congressional committee is rejecting partisanship to protect state votes Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — China's president to video in for climate confab MORE (D-Calif.), a privacy hawk and immigration lawyer, is running for the ranking member slot against the acting ranking member, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

Nadler is the most senior Democrat on the committee, but Lofgren is a veteran lawmaker from California, the home state of House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiFive reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season Bipartisan success in the Senate signals room for more compromise The GOP's post-1/6 playbook is clear — and it's dangerous MORE.

Democrats will hold their election to replace Conyers next week, according to Nadler.