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 GoodlatteHouse GOP probe into FBI, DOJ comes to an end Murkowski to reintroduce bill to help abused Native American women FBI hits GOP chairman over push to clear sensitive transcripts by Christmas Eve 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 ConyersBrenda Jones sworn into House for final weeks of 2018 GOP approves rule for Don Young Michigan New Members 2019 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 CollinsSteve King faces new storm over remarks about white supremacy Republicans question progress on probe of DOJ, FBI actions during 2016 Inside the Trump-Congress Christmas meltdown 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 GowdyCongress must take the next steps on federal criminal justice reforms Lynch testimony marks final interview of GOP-led probe Comey defends FBI actions on Flynn in House interview 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 ChaffetzTop Utah paper knocks Chaffetz as he mulls run for governor: ‘His political career should be over’ Boehner working on memoir: report Former GOP lawmaker on death of 7-year-old migrant girl: Message should be ‘don't make this journey, it will kill you' MORE (R-Utah) retired.

Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaSenate throws hundreds of Trump nominees into limbo Congress must take the next steps on federal criminal justice reforms Lynch testimony marks final interview of GOP-led probe 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 ChabotThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump headed to border as shutdown hits Day 20 | Talks fall apart | Emergency plan could set up clash with GOP House passes resolution calling for release of Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar This week: Lawmakers return to mourn George H.W. Bush 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 JordanRepublicans request update on investigation into ex-FBI official accused of leaks GOP lawmakers rip Dems for calling Cohen to testify Jordan renews call for Rosenstein to testify 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 SensenbrennerCongress must take the next steps on federal criminal justice reforms Time to protect small businesses from internet sales tax rush On The Money: Trump readying 0B in tariffs for China | Warren wants companies to disclose climate impacts | Bill aims to provide clarity to online sales tax ruling 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 RyanHouse vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King House passes resolution condemning white nationalism Anti-Defamation League calls on House leaders to censure Steve King over white supremacy comments 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 TrumpVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Pence on border wall: Trump won't be ‘deterred’ by Dem ‘obstruction’ 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 launch ‘drain-the-swamp’ agenda Hillicon Valley — Presented by AT&T — Google CEO gets grilling before Congress | Pressure builds for election security bill | Trump to target China over IP theft | Experts warn cyber criminals growing more brazen Dem lawmaker asks Google CEO why Trump's photo shows up when she searches for 'idiot' 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 Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' On The Money: Shutdown Day 25 | Dems reject White House invite for talks | Leaders nix recess with no deal | McConnell blocks second House Dem funding bill | IRS workers called back for tax-filing season | Senate bucks Trump on Russia sanctions Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions MORE.

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