House creates new select coronavirus oversight committee over GOP objections
"This is about taking responsibility," Pelosi says.
The House voted Thursday to establish a new investigative committee to monitor President Donald Trump's implementation of nearly $3 trillion in coronavirus relief measures, a step they said would safeguard the massive sums flowing to businesses, hospitals and individual taxpayers.
"It will be laser-focused on ensuring that taxpayer money goes to workers' paychecks and benefits and it will ensure that the federal response is based on the best possible science and guided by health experts — and that the money invested is not being exploited by profiteers and price gougers," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi in remarks on the House floor.
But the measure passed on a party line vote of 212-182, with Republicans unanimously slamming the effort as a veiled attempt to damage Trump politically. They described it as redundant to the multiple congressional committees already have jurisdiction to monitor the law.
"Why do we need another oversight committee? Speaker Pelosi said it's all going to be bipartisan. I'm sorry, I don't believe it," said Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), who accused other Democrat-led committees of working "nonstop to criticize President Trump and try to influence the 2020 election."
"I'm sorry. I call B.S.,” she added.
Democrats said the newly established select committee, which will operate under the umbrella of the House Oversight Committee, is a crucial addition to an lengthening list of entities tasked with guarding against waste or mismanagement by the Trump administration, which has been notoriously averse to any form of independent scrutiny.
They noted that Trump has already begun resisting efforts by internal watchdogs — the inspectors general placed inside each federal agency — to communicate potential problems to Congress. Trump has also repeatedly stonewalled congressional oversight in non-coronavirus-related probes, eventually fueling an article of impeachment in the House.
But Republicans insisted from the start that Pelosi's intention could not be bipartisan. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, said the panel appeared to be an effort to aid former vice president Joe Biden's presidential bid.
He noted that multiple congressional committees were already responsible for conducting oversight, as well as several new mechanisms created in the multitrillion-dollar coronavirus relief laws. Those include a five-member Congressional Oversight Commission, a committee of inspectors general given broad authority over implementation of the law and a newly established inspector general for pandemic response. Lawmakers also sent millions of dollars to shore up the auditing power of the Government Accountability Office.
The measure passed after a remarkable House floor debate that featured lawmakers and aides clad in face masks, adhering to social distancing on the House floor. Several members, including Pelosi, removed their masks to deliver remarks.
A handful of Republicans, including Jordan, disregarded the House physician's recommendation that lawmakers wear masks when in the chamber and in other Capitol rooms shared by colleagues. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) thanked Pelosi for setting the trend of briefly removing face masks to speak, though some lawmakers wore theirs during floor remarks.
Pelosi reiterated that she intends to name House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) to lead the new select committee, citing his work overseeing the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. The new panel will be established as a 12-member subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee, but it allows the speaker to name seven members and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to name five. McCarthy previously told Pelosi he would hold off on appointing Republicans until he sees whom Democrats tap.
The new subcommittee will begin with a $2 million budget, and Clyburn will be authorized to issue subpoenas or take depositions. The committee's official charge is to examine the use of taxpayer funds to address the coronavirus crisis, potential waste or mismanagement, the effectiveness of new laws meant to address the pandemic, federal preparedness, the economic impact of the crisis, socioeconomic disparities in the impact of the crisis, the Trump administration's handling of the crisis, the ability of whistleblowers to report waste or abuse and the Trump administration's cooperativeness with Congress and other oversight entities.
Pelosi quickly dismissed Republican assertions that the panel would be a partisan weapon, suggesting it would focus less on Trump and more on those who would seek to exploit the massive infusion of taxpayer funds for wasteful or nefarious purposes.
"This isn't about assigning blame," Pelosi said, citing scam artists who have already sought to divert funds from pots of money meant to aid small businesses or support hospitals with lifesaving equipment. "This is about taking responsibility."