The House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), is operating with a damaged rudder. Like a listing, off-balance ship, she is far off course, no longer aligned with America, turning endless circles.
Two weeks ago, she tried to remake America with a bizarre list of socialist initiatives, aiming to insert these into a “must-sign” emergency appropriations bill on coronavirus. Last week, days after Senate colleagues settled her down, she announced another set-up for impeachment, an independent coronavirus “oversight committee” with subpoena power. House Democrats are out of sync with America. It bears discussing.
Between 1995 and 2000, my job was staff director and counsel for a portion of the House oversight committee dedicated to investigating implementation of federal laws, policies, programs and expenditures by the Clinton White House, Departments of Defense, State, Justice and NASA.
The oversight committee at that time – just as now – had subpoena power. Unlike the past two years, we seldom used that subpoena power, despite strong resistance to regular oversight by the Clinton Administration.
Only during investigations of the Clinton Justice Department, FBI and ATF tied to Waco’s tragedy, and investigations into fraud at the Clinton Administration’s Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for politicizing naturalization, did we resort to targeted subpoenas – and then rarely and chiefly with “friendly” subpoenas (that is, witnesses asking for a subpoena).
The point is this: The US House already has a fully-armed Oversight Committee, replete with subcommittees and every investigative tool Congress can ever give to a committee – including all legal powers of discovery, subpoenas, deposition, and interrogatories to document production requests, interviews, and open and closed hearings.
Even if passage of a large emergency supplemental bill warranted added oversight, no crisis short of impeachment or evidence establishing presumption of criminal activity – such as in the Waco and INS investigations – would warrant a new committee being formed, given independent investigative jurisdiction, authority to spend more tax money investigating and hiring staff, up-armed with subpoena power. There is no justification for any such new investigative committee.
But what we are witnessing is worse than waste. By all indications, having lived through the costly Russia collusion and impeachment inquiries, this is a transparently partisan misuse of taxpayer dollars to use the coronavirus crisis as a pretense for mass subpoenas of the Trump Administration in 2020.
The obvious objective of this partisan gambit is a new round of anti-Trump hearings, depositions, subpoenas, accusations, insinuations, cross-allegations, court cases, and sniffing about for anti-Trump witnesses – perhaps even a whistleblower – to support the political objective of defeating this president in November, while holding the US House and taking the US Senate.
That politics can get nasty – and that modern media profit from that nastiness – is not new. That partisans rise to power, and misuse power for their own ends is not new. That politicians will not like each other is not new.
But there is no precedent in American history for repeated abuse of the congressional oversight process, intentionally directing an oversight committee – let alone a preemptive special committee – be aimed squarely at bringing down a president and his administration.
Moreover, there is no precedent for partisans in the House – from a Speaker to leftist members – seeking to remake the entire nation’s budget priorities, appropriations process, and spending requirements in an emergency supplemental bill, as Pelosi did – and again proposes to do.
More, there is no historical precedent for a Speaker or House seeking to advance the cause of socialism or centralizing power in the federal government by a sudden take-over of major industrial sectors, including energy, financial, environmental, health and transportation sectors in an emergency supplemental appropriation bill. Yet this is what was conceived.
Finally, the audacity and inappropriateness of a House Speaker setting up – and conducting a press conference to announce – another effort to bring down a president in the middle of a national crisis, is unconscionable, objectively disgraceful, even dangerous. While violating due process to pursue senseless impeachment was wasteful and ripping up a President’s State of the Union Address on national television was beneath the dignity of her office, this step is so cravenly political as to be dangerous.
Rudderless ships, after spinning in circles for some period, tend to run aground or keel over. That said, before they run aground or keel over, they can do a lot of damage. Speaker Pelosi seems intent on doing enormous damage to her political rivals, even in the middle of a national crisis which demands objective, no-nonsense, operational unity.
Without basic respect for institutional prerogatives, constitutional, statutory, common law and prudential limits on congressional power, and patriotic understanding that unity of purpose, mission and command are required to bring a crisis to fast close, this Speaker is disserving America.
Nancy Pelosi is out of sync with America, off bearing, off balance and off course, obviously operating with a damaged rudder. Perhaps her entire party is headed that way, soon to run aground or keel over. In any event, there is no credible excuse what she has done, is doing.
From an oversight perspective, there was no need for another investigative committee, no reason other than venality, personal distaste for the president, and pursuit of power. There is no justification for creating another wasteful, subpoena-heavy, open-ended, publicity-focused investigative House committee – not at any time, but especially not in the middle of a profound national crisis.