A few recommendations for a Republican controlled House

When voters give unified control of the federal government to one party, it is an act of faith, but the leash is often a short one. When they redivide government by turning over just one chamber of Congress, the chief mandates of the opposition are to restrain the party in power from excess and to hold it accountable.

In our system of checks and balances, congressional oversight of the executive plays an important role. That role has become more urgent as the executive branch has asserted ever larger powers to shape domestic policy by presidential decree. It can be especially valuable in shining attention on matters about which the press is incurious. With Republicans regaining the House, they have not only a mandate but an obligation to hold investigations of matters Congress has chosen to ignore for the previous two years — just as was done by Republicans in 2011 and by Democrats in 2019.

As a matter of civics, the power of congressional investigations should be deployed to maximum effect where other tools for making the truth public have failed. As a matter of politics, that power can be profitable, or it can be squandered. 

First, a unified approach is necessary. Kevin McCarthy should exercise a firm hand. Multiple committees should not be investigating the same topics, and leadership should lean on committee chairs to focus on the investigations that are likeliest to yield fruit. The press will be all too eager to seize upon Republican missteps to paint all House investigations as illegitimate.

Second, an investigation of Hunter Biden is entirely legitimate, but should remain carefully focused. Democrats did not shrink from investigating the Trump children. House Republicans would, however, be wise to stay trained on foreign influence–peddling and on what the president knew and how he benefited. Hunter’s dissolute lifestyle makes for good newspaper copy, but it has little directly to do with official corruption and could drown out the important stuff — much of the groundwork for which has already been laid by Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson in the Senate. Calling Tony Bobulinski to testify publicly should be a priority. If the Garland Justice Department claims that this interferes with an ongoing investigation, make it spell out why.

Third, impeaching Joe Biden is a waste of time. It will go nowhere in the Senate. Failed, partisan presidential impeachments are also politically perilous: Congressional Republicans underperformed in 1998 and 2000 during and after Bill Clinton’s impeachment, as did congressional Democrats in 2020 after Donald Trump’s first impeachment.

Ideally, Congress would recover the instinct for impeaching cabinet secretaries, but with a narrow House majority and Democrats running the Senate, it should be sufficient to pass resolutions of censure following hearings. Prime targets should be those secretaries who have issued flagrantly illegal orders or refused to enforce the laws duly enacted by Congress. That includes, at a minimum, Homeland Security’s Alejandro Mayorkas, Education’s secretary Miguel Cardona, Labor’s Marty Walsh, and HHS’s Xavier Becerra. The legislative branch is overdue to exercise some outrage, on behalf of its constitutional powers, at the executive branch’s illegally arrogating to itself the power to become the nation’s doctor, landlord, and forgiver of loans.

Fourth, there should be no amnesty for Covid policy. The American people deserve an accounting, one in which no punches are pulled. They have yet to receive one. That means looking seriously into the origins of the virus in China, examining the decisions and influence of Dr. Anthony Fauci and other figures in the federal establishment, reviewing the many public decisions made without an adequate scientific basis, exposing the influence of the teachers’ unions on Biden-administration policies, and holding a public reckoning of lockdown policies, particularly in schools.

Fifth, Republicans should get to the bottom of mounting government pressures to turn private businesses into woke auxiliaries of the state. Start with social-media companies. Every government contact aimed at influencing the behavior of those companies ought to be carefully scrutinized for signs of official power’s being used to limit the freedom of speech of American citizens and the freedom of the American press. The House should also be shining the spotlight on the SEC and other federal agencies to push ESG and other leftist cultural projects through private companies.

Sixth, conduct serious oversight of money wasted abroad. That means money flows to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan; it also means looking harder at how much of our massive aid to Ukraine is being wasted or stolen.

Seventh, there is a target-rich environment in examining abuses of federal law-enforcement power and prosecutorial discretion. Some of that can be found in the efforts of the Justice Department, the SEC, and the FTC to effectively create new law by means of creative prosecutions, or in the Justice Department’s practice of suing to block every single merger, no matter how remote it is from any semblance of monopoly. This is “the process is the penalty” governance.

There are broader questions about the FBI. But this requires some caution in order that House Republicans do not simply act as defense attorneys for Donald Trump and the January 6 defendants. Russiagate, for example, is better left to be examined by Congress after the Durham report. Nor would it be productive to have a bunch of Republican members speculating without hard evidence that January 6 was an inside job or a “fed-surrection.” The real problems with the FBI are serious and commend legislative action, which will be impossible to pursue if they are framed in terms of sympathy for the Capitol rioters.

Republicans will not have the investigative field to themselves. If Democrats win the Georgia runoff, they will have control of Senate committees and be able to launch their own investigations. In some cases, the House may end up having to counter-program the Senate.

In any event, sunlight is good for government. Democrats and this administration have much to hide. If the House can do little else, it can expose truths worth knowing.

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