The battle to install Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif, as speaker has set the House weeks behind schedule. One of the delayed tasks has been finalizing committee assignments, a complicated puzzle even in the best of times. This week, Republicans announced their roster for the powerful House Oversight Committee — and what a doozy it is.
Under the leadership of Chairman Jim Comer, R-Ky., the committee has been packed to the brim with some of the loudest and most die-hard members of the caucus’ MAGA wing. It’s a veritable rogue’s gallery of camera-ready firebrands, all eager for a chance to be front and center during the looming high-profile clashes with the Biden administration. In a Congress that is, by any measure, poised to be a three-ring circus, the clowns of the Oversight Committee are ready to compete for the spotlight.
In a Congress that is, by any measure, poised to be a three-ring circus, the clowns of the Oversight Committee are ready to compete for the spotlight.
In theory, the committee — which Republicans have now named the Committee on Oversight and Accountability — is an important gig that speaks to the balance of powers in our system. Most of the other House committees operate as mini fiefdoms, focused on smaller swatches of the executive branch. The Oversight Committee’s remit, though, is the entirety of the federal government, and the committee acts as the primary investigative arm of the House. That means the committee can take an overarching view, connect the dots and follow lines of inquiry that other committees seeking out corruption and waste cannot. And given the explosive and controversial nature of some of its investigations, committee members are primed for prime time, with many of them more than willing to spend their evenings telling Fox News viewers about the scandal du jour.
Among the 17 Republicans who will be perched on the Oversight Committee alongside Comer are Arizona’s Paul Gosar and Pennsylvania’s Scott Perry, two of the most fervent advocates for former president Donald Trump’s 2020 election conspiracy lies. There’s also newly minted frenemies Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, two far-right darlings and media hounds. And let’s not forget Anna Paulina Luna and Byron Donalds of Florida, who were members of the GOP insurgency that kept McCarthy out of the speakership for days. These are not McCarthy’s favorite people — but making room for them on the committee was apparently one the concessions he was willing to make to get the speaker’s gavel.
A seat on the Oversight Committee wasn’t always such a plum position. A spot on the House Appropriations Committee, for example, used to be considered much more lucrative and prestigious, given the donors who care very much about how their tax dollars are doled out. So was a seat on Ways and Means, the committee that oversees the tax code. “We always treated it as a dumping ground for our less serious members,” Brendan Buck, a former senior adviser to the prior two GOP speakers, said of the Oversight Committee to The New York Times. “Republicans have long treated Oversight as the land of misfit toys.”
It was under a previous Republican-led House, though, that what was then called the House Committee on Government Reform began to take its current place in the congressional pecking order. During the Clinton administration’s second term, the GOP opted to grant the committee’s chair the power to unilaterally issue subpoenas. According to a count conducted by Democrats, that new power resulted in an avalanche of over 1,000 subpoenas to Clinton officials and Democrats more broadly. Republicans had that same power when George W. Bush took office, and to nobody’s surprise, during his first term, that power of theirs lay mostly dormant.
“Republican Congresses tend to overinvestigate Democratic administrations and underinvestigate their own,” then-Chair Tom Davis, R-Va., told The Washington Post in 2005, a year during which Bush was under fire for failures surrounding his government’s response to Hurricane Katrina and his prosecution of the Iraq War. His observation didn’t exactly make a lasting impact, with the GOP shifting back into investigative overdrive during Barack Obama’s time in the White House after recapturing the House in the midterms.
By then the right-wing scandal industrial complex had fully matured, with lurid investigations grabbing headlines in conservative media and airtime on Fox News, which, in turn, created the need to manufacture new crises to exploit. The Benghazi hearings, which served as the apex of this fervor, showcased the attention (and donations) the GOP base was willing to give in the name of “owning the libs.” Small wonder that the two most recent GOP Oversight chairs resigned from the House and pursued media gigs. Jason Chaffetz is a Fox News contributor, hosts a podcast on Fox News radio and has guest hosted multiple shows on the network; Trey Gowdy hosts a show called “Sunday Night in America,” also on Fox News.
The Oversight Committee is set to be the loudest, and least productive, show in town.
Republicans have already made clear that feeding that cycle is their top priority for the next two years. Little focus has been placed on any legislative goals, not with Democrats holding the Senate and White House and most Republicans treating “compromise” as a dirty word. The certainty that they’ll get attention for what they consider holding President Joe Biden’s feet to the fire has made the Oversight Committee the top ticket for many MAGA members.
Comer has already promised hearings into Biden and his family’s businesses, the discovery of classified documents from Biden’s time as vice president and the administration’s border policy — and promises even more to come. That’s going to mean ample time for Greene, Gosar and the rest to showboat during hearings, parade conspiracy as truth and rake in the adulation from the MAGA base. The spectacle is certainly going to be dazzling — and Democrats are hoping that Republicans will be too blinded by the lights to realize that their investigations are falling flat with regular Americans.
For now, though, the Oversight Committee is set to be the loudest, and least productive, show in town. And it’s clear that the majority of members who have fought to be on it wouldn’t have it any other way.