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Climate Politics Almanac: Democratic House Oversight Leadership
We continue our series on leadership elections by looking at the contenders to be the top Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
In this post, we continue to look at the upcoming leadership elections for the House Democrats, with an overview of the Oversight and Reform Committee.
Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) lost her primary, and will be leaving Congress at the end of this session. This committee is one of just three committees in Congress with subpoena power, and therefore is famous for its probes of business malfeasance, corruption, and scandal. During the final two years of the George W. Bush administration, then-Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) exposed the waste, delays, and injustice behind FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and documented “systemic tampering” with global warming research by the executive branch. More recently, Maloney and Environmental Oversight Subcommittee Chair Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) have drawn inspiration from Waxman’s legendary Big Tobacco hearings to haul oil industry executives before the Committee (on Zoom) to testify. In September, the House Oversight Committee marked up the Disaster Resiliency Planning Act, incorporating climate risk into federal property management.
Rep. Jim Comer (R-Ky.) will be the new chair when Republicans take over the House. The race to replace Maloney is reportedly between Reps. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).
Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.)
A former union head first elected to the Massachusetts State House in 1994, Rep. Stephen Lynch’s early political career as a state legislator was noteworthy for its social conservatism. Lynch leaned into the Catholicism that one might expect from a South Boston ironworker, and identified as “pro-life” and anti-LGBT, organizing against gay people marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Though he’s certainly evolved since that time, Lynch voted for the notorious abortion-restricting Stupak-Pitts Amendment to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), then ultimately voted against final passage of the ACA. Lynch has supported the Keystone XL pipeline. Lynch’s 2020 primary opponent criticized him for disparaging climate as an “elitist” issue, though Lynch’s spokesperson claimed the quote was taken out of context and insisted that he supports a GND.
Lynch sits on the Oversight and Financial Services Committee, and holds leadership positions within both. As chair of the Financial Technology Task Force, Lynch has done commendable work promoting a digital currency as well as strengthened oversight of the scam-filled and volatile cryptocurrency landscape—relevant experience as Congress responds to the collapse of FTX, considered a “Bear Stearns moment” for crypto. Lynch is also the Chair of the National Security Oversight Committee. Lynch has a hawkish history on national security issues, having first won his House seat in a special election that took place on September 11, 2001. Following the departure of Maloney from Congress, Lynch will be one of only five House Democrats remaining who voted to authorize the Iraq war in 2002.
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Gerry Connolly (D-Va.)
Like Raskin, Rep. Gerry Connolly represents affluent D.C. suburbs, and was first elected to his Fairfax County, Virginia-based district in 2008. A New Democrat who tends to vote in the interests of the military contractors in his district, Connolly voted last year to prevent passage of an amendment that would have waived a requirement that the Defense Department (DoD) be reimbursed for expenses incurred responding to wildfires. In 2017, Connolly voted for the Electricity Reliability and Forest Protection Act, which weakened wildlife protections on public lands. Perhaps most troubling for someone who may be in a position to conduct oversight over a future Republican administration, Connolly voted to issue a waiver to Trump’s first Defense Secretary pick, blurring the lines between civilian and military service. Connolly was the only House Democrat to vote for a Republican amendment to HR 1 that would have restored the ability of government contractors to avoid disclosure of campaign contributions as part of the bidding process.
Connolly has periodically sided against progressives and with Wall Street on financial services bills. In 2019, he was one of only 6 Democrats to vote for a failed Republican amendment to the Export Finance Authority reauthorization bill that would have struck language creating a new office for clean energy exports and environmental standards and replaced it with weaker language. In 2017 and 2018, Connolly voted for a slew of Republican bills weakening financial protections.
Jamie Raskin (D-Md.)
By far the biggest climate hawk in the race is Jamie Raskin from Montgomery County, Maryland. A Harvard University classmate and friend of Bill McKibben, Raskin is the only CPC Member and only Green New Deal (GND) champion in contention. While running for Congress in 2016, Raskin counted sponsorship of a fracking ban and passage of a procurement overhaul called the Green Maryland Act among many liberal accomplishments in the Maryland Senate, which won him endorsements from the Sierra Club, Climate Hawks Vote, and the CPC. After winning 2016’s most expensive House primary, Raskin stood out for his constitutional scholarship amidst the abuses of the Trump administration. Underscoring his oversight credentials is his clear view of Congress as the “first branch,” articulated in a 2019 Washington Post op-ed:
“Congress was never designed as, nor should it ever become, a mere ‘co-equal branch,’ beseeching the president to share his awesome powers with us. We are the exclusive lawmaking branch of our national government and the preeminent part of it. We set the policy agenda, we write the laws, and we can impeach judges or executives who commit high crimes and misdemeanors against our institutions.….The founders replaced the intertwined monarchical and theocratic forms of government that prevailed in the 18th century with representative democracy so the people could govern, which is why our Constitution begins with those three magic words: ‘We the People.’”
As the Chair of the Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Raskin has pursued investigations into white nationalism, examined “the legal assault on environmental activists,” and has also led an investigation “revealing that the natural gas pipeline approval process used by FERC is unfair to private landowners.”
Raskin unsuccessfully urged Speaker Pelosi to impeach Trump on the basis of his self-enriching Emoluments Clause violations in 2019. Consistent with this position, Raskin was the only candidate in the Oversight race to vote against tabling a motion to impeach Trump in July 2019. Later, Raskin was asked by Pelosi to manage Trump’s second impeachment, having endured the personal tragedy of losing his son just days before the January 6 attack on the Capitol. His powerful closing arguments in that trial preceded a very visible year in which he published a memoir and served on the January 6 Commission. Although he is the most junior Member of the Committee vying for the top spot on Oversight, Raskin has earned deep respect from a broad spectrum of the Democratic caucus.
In his preview of the “coming Republican inquisition,” Bob Kuttner took a look at the record of incoming Chair Jim Comer (R-Ky.), who seems likely to use the Oversight gavel to harass Hunter Biden and demand a return to Trump border policies, concluding: “It might be smart of Democrats to elevate Raskin as the top Democrat on Oversight, as a far more effective check on Comer.”