GOP Mulls Options to Oppose 'Partisan' Pelosi Oversight Committee

Rep. Tom Cole (R., Okla.) / Getty Images
April 11, 2020

House Republicans are considering plans to subvert House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D., Calif.) proposed coronavirus oversight committee, including refusing to appoint GOP members.

Pelosi announced her intent to form the committee on April 2, but it cannot be launched without House approval. With Congress out of session until at least April 20, GOP deputy whip Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.) indicated there is "no way" Republicans would approve the committee by unanimous consent, adding that he "finds it hard to believe" the House would reconvene before May.

"I would certainly recommend to our leadership if this committee were constituted that we not name any members to it and that we show it for what it is," Cole told the Washington Free Beacon. "This is not a committee that is genuinely set for oversight."

The move could lead to another coronavirus quarrel between Pelosi and House Republicans. In March the speaker delayed a $2 trillion relief package as she attempted to insert measures unrelated to the deadly pandemic. Pelosi on Wednesday told the Washington Post that the committee was "getting ready to begin its work." Staffers for Republican House leadership confirmed that they are reviewing their options on how to handle Pelosi's proposed committee, including the possibility of withholding GOP participation.

"With all due respect to the speaker, she's leaning over her skis quite a bit," Cole said. "She can announce whatever she wants, but the House has to approve this committee. There's no way that this committee would be approved by unanimous consent on the Republican side."

Republicans expressed concern with the committee soon after Pelosi's announcement, citing the speaker's decision to tap House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D., S.C) to lead it. In March, the South Carolina Democrat called coronavirus "a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision," sparking criticism from GOP leaders who fear the committee's subpoena power could be abused.

"[The committee] is concerning to me because Congressman Clyburn is the one who thought that this crisis was an opportune time to restructure government," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) said in March. "That's not what we should be doing." Cole concurred, calling the committee "a partisan effort to try and harass the president and impact the election."

House Republicans have also said the committee would be redundant, pointing to the House's existing oversight infrastructure and the $45 million allocated toward oversight in the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill signed by President Trump in March. Democrats previously lauded the bill's oversight requirements. House Oversight Committee chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.) said the existing accountability measures in the package would "ensure that taxpayer dollars are used effectively and efficiently." Cole echoed those sentiments in an interview with the Free Beacon.

"Everybody on the Appropriations Committee has an oversight role in this, so you can convene your normal subcommittees and full committee to do that," said Cole, a member of the Appropriations Committee.

"Beyond that, of course, we have an oversight and government reform committee which can pick and choose whatever subjects they want to exercise oversight on," Cole said. "Within the legislation itself, there's a five-person committee that's appointed by leadership in both houses of Congress, as well as an inspector general function, that will have oversight over this."

Pelosi's committee is likely to launch with or without Republicans when Congress reconvenes, but Cole said the committee would have "no legitimacy whatsoever" without a bipartisan presence. He said it would face "unanimous or near-unanimous" GOP opposition. McCarthy in March said Pelosi did not reach out to him when planning the committee, revealing that the speaker called him about 30 minutes before announcing it. President Trump referred to Pelosi's actions as "witch hunt after witch hunt after witch hunt."