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 GoodlatteUSCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Immigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview 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 ConyersThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems release first transcripts from impeachment probe witnesses Hispanic Caucus dedicates Day of the Dead altar to migrants who died in US custody Today On Rising: The media beclowns themselves on Baghdadi 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 CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules This week: Raucous rules fight, opening arguments in impeachment trial White House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team 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 GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyGreen says House shouldn't hold impeachment articles indefinitely Trump golfs with Graham ahead of impeachment trial Trey Gowdy returns to Fox News as contributor 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 ChaffetzThe myth of the conservative bestseller Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records MORE (R-Utah) retired.

Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaDuncan Hunter to plead guilty to campaign finance violations Why the GOP march of mad hatters poses a threat to our Democracy Elijah Cummings, native son of Baltimore, gets emotional send-off from Democratic luminaries 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 ChabotKoch network could target almost 200 races in 2020, official says Judiciary Committee abruptly postpones vote on articles of impeachment Parties clash as impeachment articles move closer to House vote 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 JordanCheney's decision not to run for Senate sparks Speaker chatter The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules This week: Raucous rules fight, opening arguments in impeachment trial 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 FranksArizona New Members 2019 Cook shifts 8 House races toward Dems Freedom Caucus members see openings in leadership 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 SensenbrennerHouse votes to impeach Trump House impeaches Trump for abuse of power Judiciary members battle over whether GOP treated fairly in impeachment hearings 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 RyanHill.TV's Saagar Enjeti rips Sanders for 'inability to actually fight with bad actors' in party Biden fires back at Sanders on Social Security Warren now also knocking Biden on Social Security 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 John TrumpMnuchin knocks Greta Thunberg's activism: Study economics and then 'come back' to us The Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial 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 LofgrenDemocrats begin to present case for Trump impeachment to Senate GOP rejects effort to compel documents on delayed Ukraine aid White House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team 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 PelosiSekulow indicates White House not interested in motion to dismiss impeachment articles Overnight Health Care: Trump restores funding for Texas program that bars Planned Parenthood | Trump to attend March for Life | PhRMA spent record on 2019 lobbying Key House committee chairman to meet with Mnuchin on infrastructure next week MORE.

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