Pelosi: We're launching a "bipartisan" select committee to oversee coronavirus response -- not investigate it; Update: Briefing envy?

Or so she says now. With $2.2 trillion in massive relief funds in play, the US needs a robust oversight mechanism for the distribution and efficacy of this historic rescue package. The question will be whether that is what Nancy Pelosi and James Clyburn have in mind — or whether they will turn it into Adam Schiff’s proposed third full-scale investigation into the Trump administration.


Pelosi told reporters that this committee would only focus on “the here and now,” but would still need subpoena power in order to conduct effective oversight. Note how well Pelosi carries off bipartisanship in this MSNBC interview discussing her new effort:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday announced the creation of a new bipartisan House select committee on the coronavirus crisis that will exercise oversight of the federal response to the pandemic and be chaired by Majority Whip Jim Clyburn.

The speaker told reporters on a conference call that the committee’s immediate focus will be on “the here and now,” not the Trump administration’s initial response to the pandemic, though she said there will come a time when such a review will be appropriate.

She said the committee will “have an expert staff and the committee will be empowered to examine all aspects of the federal response to coronavirus and to ensure that the taxpayers dollars are being wisely and efficiently spent to save lives, deliver relief, and benefit our economy.”

Pelosi said the committee will be able to exercise oversight and would have the authority to issue subpoenas.

Had Pelosi announced this at the time of the bill’s passage, it might have seemed like a normal follow-up to the CARES Act. Coming a day after Schiff’s announcement of seeking authorization for yet another probe of the White House, that “here and now” pledge has to be viewed with some skepticism. Even if Pelosi is sincere at the moment, Schiff and Jerrold Nadler among others in her caucus will demand that this select committee expand its scope at some point.


The only way to prevent that from happening would be to have an equal number of Republicans and Democrats on the select committee. Chances of that happening range somewhere between slim and none. Normally, that construct would require co-chairs from each party. Pelosi didn’t mention anything of the sort, nor does it appear that she’s discussed this idea much with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy:

Republicans voiced immediate skepticism about Pelosi’s move to stand up a new select committee.

“This seems really redundant,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters on a call following Pelosi’s announcement.

McCarthy also expressed “concerns” about how the committee would be created since the House is on a long recess and no one knows when they are coming back given health concerns from the coronavirus. Several lawmakers have tested positive.

For one thing, McCarthy objects to Clyburn as chair over some of his comments about using the crisis to reorganize government:


McCarthy makes a good point. The CARES Act includes — at Pelosi’s demand — independent oversight by IGs:

The law established a new special inspector general to oversee the Treasury fund, a separate commission appointed by Congress also empowered to monitor that fund, and a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, comprised of existing inspectors general from multiple agencies, to oversee the entire federal response to the coronavirus.

Sounds like McCarthy has his suspicions about this select committee becoming a back door to Schiff’s investigatory tool. One other point McCarthy makes is worth emphasizing — how will this work when the House is adjourned at the very moment when Treasury has to make critical decisions on distribution of aid? Pelosi won’t have the House return until April 20, almost three weeks from now. And while McCarthy told Manu Raju that he missed a call from Pelosi earlier in the morning, why would she announce a “bipartisan” effort without first discussing it with McCarthy?

The whole idea sounds rather peculiar, under the circumstances. If this is to be truly focused on the here and now in a bipartisan manner, it’s not off to a good start.

Update: I must admit this hadn’t occurred to me:


Pelosi has a daily briefing already, but this would certainly afford an opportunity for the House to counter-program against Trump. They’d have to stay in town to do it, though.

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