Opinion / Politics

Radical US House May Kill Fair Congressional Oversight


Some things never change.  Some change radically when least expected.  How our government is running fits the second category, more than first. The US House is probably a good place to look for radical shifts.  To date, the sun still rises in the east, but let’s see how long that habit lasts.  Fair congressional oversight is on the ropes.

Years ago, when I served as a staff director and counsel for the US House oversight subcommittee investigating the Departments of Justice, State, Defense and NASA, we had cerebral membership.  Newt Gingrich was the Speaker, but Democrats were civil and largely fair.  The oversight mission was serious, accountability important, and investigative tools and process respected.

Our big tool was power to subpoena.  We used it sparingly.  The subpoena compels attendance of a witness at a hearing, deposition, interview of other forum.  In our view, and that of Republican leadership – with Chairman Bill Clinger (R-PA) at full committee and Bill Zeliff (R-NH) heading subcommittee – one never used a subpoena, unless absolutely needed.  Fairness, proportionality, process – mattered.

In nearly five years of conducting congressional oversight hearings –Waco hearings in 1996 to dozens of hearings into strategic defense, drug policy, law enforcement, immigration and space exploration – we seldom used the subpoena.  We worked to keep the politics out, process front-and-center.

Note that – even in a time when a sitting Democrat President (Bill Clinton) was facing impeachment, not fictional but real trial in the Senate – we seldom used the subpoena. 

Why was this – beyond decorum and prudence, balanced with probity – why did we so seldom ring the big bell, threatening or issuing a subpoena?  Because we felt that rule of law, respect for individuals, process and the American People began at home.  Elephant guns were for big game, not for political theater.

As a result, we actually got enormous Democrat cooperation – even from the Clinton Administration.  We conducted hearings on dozens of topics, many sensitive, some controversial – but were able to win bipartisan interest, reforms and support to assure accountability to dozens of agencies. 

Perhaps 49 of 50 hearings required no subpoena.  The biggest reason was our membership on the Oversight Committee and subcommittees.  We had an abundance of lawyers, former law enforcement officers, level-headed and less political minds, people more curious than castigating.  We wanted what was right for America, not for one party.  We worked well together.

Which brings me today.  Suddenly, members of the Oversight Committee in the US House are everywhere, all over the air waves, Twitter, making bold headlines before there is one hearings – talking about subpoenas, threatening and finger-wagging – not a single hearing yet in the books.  The unseemly specter gives pause.

Now we learn that the newly-elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who identifies as a “socialist,” wants a “70 percent” marginal tax, thinks rich Americans are “illegal,” says “facts don’t matter,” warns global warming will kill all Americans in “twelve years,” has crude words for everyone near President Trump – has made her way to the Oversight Committee.

Meantime, equally crass, anti-Israeli, anti-Trump freshman member, Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), is on the top investigative committee.  She makes no bones about it, facts be damned.  Her goal is to “impeach the motherf—er,” as she refers to our President.  Leadership of the committee has sworn an aggressive attack on the “White House,” in particular.  It all gives pause.

The question – as one who ran investigative hearings in a prior decade– is this:  With so many members swearing – literally – to impeach the president, without facts or fidelity to established fairness and process; so many declaring intent to subpoena liberally regardless of need; so many announcing conclusions before hearings are held, what does “oversight” really mean anymore?

As a matter of law, unbiased, even-handed, fact-based, legally-pursued “oversight” is a constitutional prerogative of Congress.  Yet every indication is that what we are about to see something different.  What qualifies as “oversight” is about to change radically.  The way that this House Oversight Committee membership is stacking up, speaking up, putting Americans, history and rule of law down, suggests old “congressional oversight” is about to become “congressional overreach.”  Average Americans who expect a modicum of fairness are about to be sorely disappointed.

That said, hope springs eternal.  Maybe Elijah Cummings (D-MD), once our ranking member on a leading oversight subcommittee, will think hard about the downside of “overreach” versus fair “oversight.”  Maybe he will ponder the Republic, his party, and the value of balanced, fair, non-partisan oversight.  Maybe we will be surprised – as he reins in wild horses.  And maybe, the sun will rise in the west tomorrow.

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Mike B
1 year ago

A long time ago a very intelligent person once told me, “we did not have to fear being invaded but a communist power rather, Americans would raise the Red flag over the capital”. With the current class of Democrats in the the House and Senate I fear that prediction may happen sooner rather than later. God help our country and our Constitution.

Charles Holzman
1 year ago

I left a 15-year career as a teacher and assistant principal in a Maryland county government in 1983. In 1968 we taught units in social studies and history that were laced with conservative values and principles. Before the names were changed, we celebrated Christmas and Easter holidays. There was even a protocol where the principal would introduce a student who would often quote scripture at the start of the day. In addition, there was no problem in each classroom – or from the parents of the students – when we stood and said the Pledge of Allegiance which included ‘one… Read more »

1 year ago

Han on people. It is going to get a lot worse. Keep voting democrat and you will no longer have a vote, or a nation to vote in.

1 year ago

Sorry, Rob Charles, you write an interesting and compelling article but your ending premise, that “…“congressional oversight” is about to become “congressional overreach.” ” is wrong. Instead of “overreach”perhaps you should have said “repression” or “tyranny” to more accurately reflect this congress’ intent toward anyone who would be so foolish as to disagree with or *gasp* impede their long march toward one world communist workers utopia. I’m willing to be charitable, though. Many of this current crop of legislators are sufficiently stupid and clueless that they may not realize what the ultimate outcome of their actions is.

1 year ago

The author is living in a dream world, if he thinks that the Democrats give a hoot about “fair Congressional oversight”. Before the Dems formally took control of the House, they already laid out plans for 85 Congressional hearings into all things Trump. Their legislative agenda is to roll back everything done in the last two years and get the country back on the track to becoming a socialist democracy after the 2020 or 2024 elections. The author hoping that Elijah Cummings will somehow act as the voice of reason in a House now openly promoting all the tenets of… Read more »

Phyllis Poole
1 year ago

A very wise young female teacher told my class many many years ago that women in power are much more cruel than any man has ever been! Wasn’t she right. ???!!!
Notice there are many women who have gained power in our nation and they are extremely vicious!!!!

1 year ago

It is time to ban the party that no longer cherishes our Constitution but works hard to destroy our Constitutional Republic and our country from the inside so they can pilfer property and sell of our resources to the Russians and the Chinese. Communists will be communists and the Democrats have with their actions dropped all pretense of even remotely wanting to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, or who they really are. The “Communist Control Act of 1954” is still on the books, still the law of the land, time to enforce it and… Read more »

1 year ago

If the Democrats prevail we will be a 3rd world nation in 20 yrs.

1 year ago

Term Limits, Term Limits, Term Limits!

R.S. Helms
1 year ago

The Cavanaugh hearings really showed what the real heart of the Democrat Party is all about, and perhaps a third of the Republicans. Ethics out the window, moral values, protocol, legal procedure … as was pointed out “putting Americans, history, and rule of law down.” It is my studied opinion that some-where over the past ten years Congress has become one slimy body of no integrity, no class, no moral values, no established protocol, and for sure no respect for people or the Constitution. I blame the whole of the Democratic Party and that third plus of the Republican Party… Read more »

Betty Hicks
1 year ago

thank you for reminds us the American citizens of what fair government is . we certainly have not seen this in a while.

1 year ago

Elijah S-Cummings??? FAT CHANCE!

Don Nichols
1 year ago

Everyone should read “MY LIFE AND WORK” by Henry Ford.He employed many people with physical disabilities.Everyone can do something.

Keith H
1 year ago

Honestly the country will never recover from the toxic and vile rhetoric on the left. They will never listen to reason. It’s a hopeless cause !!! For those of you who think otherwise are just blind to the facts. The game is rigged against the people who bust there ass everyday to pay their taxes and bills. Civil War will be the only way to bring positive change. We will have to cut out the cancer known as the libtard leftist left. You know the Baby Killers. They celebrate death, they hate all that is America, and now they hate… Read more »

1 year ago

Lord have mercy on America because we will no longer be America but Amerika!!!! Most law abiding conservative folks will either be dead or in concentration camps and the whiny liberals that voted these socialists Democrats in office will be starving just like Venezuela! But oh the Democrats will be telling everyone how great they are and if they have any problems, oh yes it’s the Republicans fault when there won’t be any Republicans left!!! Stay tuned…it’s going to get ugly cuz without God, there is NO MORALITY! NO RIGHT or WRONG, JUST SELFISHNESS, HEDONISM, GREED and ARROGANCE!!!! Welcome to… Read more »

Teri Smith
1 year ago

Truer words were never spoken

1 year ago

Why do we always hold out for a change of heart from the Democratic party? Haven’t we learned by now that they always stick together, unlike Republicans, who defect at the first sign of trouble! The reasonable Dem moderates are no longer influencial and the young tigers have already been let out of their cages. Until we unite and stand our ground without being weak and bailing out of a tough position, the bulldozer will continue on its path of destruction.

1 year ago

Civil huh , have you been watching the Free Press ?? Who has been calling for dead pigs in marches , calling people racist , sexist , Nazi . Civil to beat a drum in a kids face , yelling and having the Free Press sticking cameras in his face , you can defend your self young man by asking politely, chief do you want to wear that drum?? These polls Amac asks like this one , and is the Free Press fair to the President ?? Start asking polls like don’t listen to a word from that nutjob Pelosi… Read more »

1 year ago

The radical Dems are doing they can to destroy Congress as we once knew it. Totally, totally sad.

michael failla
1 year ago

Nikita Krushchev once said: You americans will never accept communism. So we will spoonfeed you socialism a little at a time and one fine morning you will wake up in a communist country. Prophetic? Look around you my friends, look at the idiots in congress…I dont think that time is to far away. Do you?

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