A Tale of Two Committees
The House created two new committees this week, with each taking very different paths.
Programming note: Thursday Night Bulwark is tonight at 8pm ET on Zoom and will feature A.B. Stoddard. I’ll be there too. Look for location details in your inbox.
The Republican House majority is now fully operational. This week they appointed committee chairs, began work on messaging bills, and dealt with (more) George Santos drama. But none of that is the headline. The big move was the creation of two new committees.
They both have unwieldy names. The Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party was established with broad bipartisan support and is largely viewed on the Hill as a policy necessity. Meanwhile, the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, which will sit under the House Judiciary Committee, is set to become a critical component of Republicans’ political messaging.
The difference in the character and tone of these two committees is obvious in how they passed. The resolution establishing the committee on China passed 365–65. The “weaponization” subcommittee was passed along strictly partisan lines.
One of these committees is important for governance. The other is important for politics. So let’s look under the hood to understand how they’ll each function.
The China committee is a bipartisan effort
The select committee on China is chaired by Wisconsin Republican Mike Gallagher, who describes the panel’s mission as a collaborative effort to ensure that legislation takes into account the threats posed by China.
“We’re hoping for legislation and policy that sort of transcends committee jurisdiction and therefore risks slipping through the cracks and falling between committee jurisdiction,” Gallagher told me. “If it’s a priority for the speaker, we can ensure that it moves through the committee process and that the various committee chairs are talking to each other.”
“I’d like to think that with nine Republicans and seven Democrats taking it seriously, we can inject a sense of urgency into this debate as well as sort of shine a light on the various issues that don’t naturally get attention in a 700-page report,” he added.
Gallagher has already directed his staff to sit down with members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China to “make sure we’re not duplicating efforts.” Established in 2000, the commission studies big-picture questions related to China. It consists of eighteen members of Congress (equally divided among the House and Senate) and five members of the sitting president’s administration (when the president bothers to appoint members, as Donald Trump never did).
“Even where there is overlap” with the commission, Gallagher added, “I don’t see that necessarily as a bad thing. We’d be happy to steal their best ideas and just kind of inject them into the legislative process. So I hope they view us as kind of a partner.”
Outside of a few dozen progressives who opposed its creation, the new China committee has been met with optimism and support from both sides of the aisle. You can expect the committee’s influence to reach far and wide in the House, but without leaning on grand spectacles and marquee hearings.
As for the other committee…
Brace yourselves for hyperpoliticized show trials
The other new panel is tasked with examining the “weaponization of the federal government” and will use far-reaching authority to investigate the various investigations of Donald J. Trump and his associates (as well as other perceived persecutions of conservatives by government agencies). The subcommittee will have subpoena power and access to information on par with the House Intelligence Committee.
Freedom Caucus cofounder Jim Jordan chairs the full Judiciary Committee and will serve on—and reportedly will also chair—the new subcommittee of 13 Republicans and 5 Democrats. Unlike the now-defunct House January 6th committee, the minority party is not expected to boycott.
The subcommittee is expected to get a lot of airtime and ink in conservative media circles, the idea being to follow a similar path to the Benghazi committee, using “bombshell” reports and blockbuster hearings featuring Republicans needling both career civil servants and Biden administration officials. (Some Republicans have taken to calling it a new “Church committee,” referring to the Senate panel that investigated the CIA, but former staffers from that 1970s committee reject the comparison over on the Bulwark homepage today and in the Hill.)
It’s anticipated that the new subcommittee will work in tandem with the full Judiciary Committee (especially if Jordan is chairing both).
Don’t expect much overlap with the work that the House Oversight and Accountability Committee will be pursuing. That committee’s chairman, Rep. James Comer, assured me he is leaving all Justice Department matters to Jordan, while Oversight focuses on other areas of the federal government. So expect Oversight to handle everything from Hunter Biden’s business dealings to the recently turned over classified documents from Joe Biden’s days as vice president.
The resolution creating the “weaponization” subcommittee gives it purview over “ongoing criminal investigations,” which, as this morning’s Bulwark article about the subcommittee notes, could create the bizarre scenario in which a congressional panel is investigating federal investigators who are investigating them.
I spoke to California Democrat Linda Sanchez, one of the few members of the old Benghazi committee still serving in Congress, who expressed concern about how the subcommittee Republicans could insert themselves into ongoing Justice Department activities.
“One thing that I know for sure is [the Benghazi committee] did not have the power to stop current investigations—or try to stop current investigations. Which is the point of this entire exercise with this subcommittee.”
Whether the subcommittee decides to look into the DOJ investigation of January 6th or instead to first focus on the “deep state” or the so-called “Twitter files” or something else, you should expect things to ramp up very fast.