The top watchdog committee in the U.S. House of Representatives couldn’t even get organized without some fights.
The Oversight and Reform Committee, led by Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), is expected to be at the center of some of the most heated fights in Washington, D.C., as the Democratic leaders launch multiple investigations into the Trump administration. Before the big spats begin, the committee gathered on Capitol Hill Tuesday to introduce new members and adopt its rules.
In a likely preview of what’s to come, even the pro forma affair involved Democrats and Republicans trading barbs over everything from rules about subpoenas to the committee’s name and past grievances about office space.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the panel, implored Cummings to work across the aisle with the GOP. But he said he’s wary after what he’s seen so far, criticizing Cummings for failing to properly consult the GOP on issues like changing the committee’s name – it had been called the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform – and pursuing early oversight plans.
Jordan recalled Cummings telling then-Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) that his first instinct should be to consult with Democrats. “I hope that’s what happens in this committee over the next two years,” Jordan told the Democratic chairman.
He added, “We need to never forget that we have a constitutional duty to do oversight and this is the committee, the key committee where that gets done. It should be done fact-by-fact, step-by-step” and it should be done fairly, “with the objective of getting to the truth.”
Cummings shot back: “Let me be real clear on this. Listen up,” he said. “I shall be about the business of being fair. Be clear on that. Be clear that I will seek the truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”
He added, “I will not be about the business of wasting taxpayers’ dollars, but I will get to the truth, particularly in this day and in this age. We must have it.”
The new chairman bristled at how Republican leadership had treated his staff when Democrats transitioned to the minority after the 2010 elections, and he pledged to be kinder to the GOP.
He chastised Issa for putting Democratic committee staff in a windowless House office that had previously been used to hold computer servers.
“It was disheartening,” Cummings said, that they “were denied a decent office.” When Democrats took charge this year, “I wanted to do the opposite,” Cummings said, adding that the minority staff was in a first-floor suite with “beautiful windows and views of the Capitol.”
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told Cummings he recognized that the committee could be one of the most contentious on Capitol Hill during this Congress.
With that in mind, Meadows said, Cummings’ willingness to provide a workspace with windows was “greatly appreciated.”