Freedom Caucus: Leaders Blocked Us From Oversight Gavel

Conservatives contend GOP leaders urged Trey Gowdy to run for key chairmanship, pushing Jim Jordan aside.

Rep. Trey Gowdy
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Daniel Newhauser
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Daniel Newhauser
May 23, 2017, 4:30 p.m.

Rep. Trey Gowdy has lead­er­ship’s bless­ing to take the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee gavel, but House Free­dom Caucus mem­bers think lead­ers asked Gowdy to run in or­der to spite one of their own.

Con­ser­vat­ives are fum­ing this week that lead­er­ship is passing over Rep. Jim Jordan in fa­vor of the less-seni­or Gowdy for the prize com­mit­tee gavel.

Jordan, the found­ing chair­man of the Free­dom Caucus, showed in­terest in lead­ing the com­mit­tee in the wake of Chair­man Jason Chaf­fetz’s an­nounce­ment that he will resign in June. But sev­er­al mem­bers say lead­er­ship asked Gowdy to run in­stead.

“If it were a vote of the com­mit­tee mem­bers, it would be Jordan,” said one Free­dom Caucus mem­ber, who agreed to speak an­onym­ously to dis­cuss in­tern­al con­fer­ence de­cisions. “That Gowdy has been asked to do it in light of that … should be ob­vi­ously prob­lem­at­ic.”

In­deed, al­most half of the Re­pub­lic­ans on the Over­sight Com­mit­tee are mem­bers of the Free­dom Caucus. But un­for­tu­nately for them, and for Jordan, chair­man­ships are de­cided by the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee, an ad­min­is­trat­ive pan­el packed with lead­ers and lead­er­ship loy­al­ists. Jordan saw the writ­ing on the wall and passed on an un­real­ist­ic bid.

“You don’t want to ex­er­cise a pro­cess that is fu­tile from the start, which is why Jordan said, ‘If someone else is get­ting ap­poin­ted, then I’m not the anoin­ted one,’” said Rep. Mark San­ford, a Free­dom Caucus mem­ber who has also con­sidered run­ning for the chair­man­ship.

For HFC mem­bers, the in­cid­ent is yet an­oth­er re­mind­er that for all the power the group has wres­ted from lead­er­ship, it still is and will for the fore­see­able fu­ture be struc­tur­ally ham­strung when try­ing to take the leap in­to form­al­iz­ing its power.

In fact, it is ex­actly be­cause of the group’s ad­ept use of its size and its tend­ency to vote as a bloc, which it of­ten does to force lead­ers down a pre­ferred le­gis­lat­ive path, that in­di­vidu­al mem­bers of the group will be passed over for pro­mo­tions. Lead­ers re­ward team play­ers, and the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee, which chooses chair­man­ships, is full of them.

“People can want something all they want, but that doesn’t mean they’re go­ing to get it,” said one mem­ber of the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee. “There’s more re­sent­ment of what the Free­dom Caucus has cost our brand in the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee that the last thing you’re go­ing to want to do is hand the power of the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee to the damn Free­dom Caucus.”

That’s not ex­actly break­ing news to the Free­dom Caucus, either.

“Jim had seni­or­ity on it, and he’s a fight­er against the swamp and the es­tab­lish­ment. So lead­er­ship will make their call. But I don’t think any­one’s shocked,” Rep. Dave Brat said. “It’s a lead­er­ship call. It just comes down to that.”

The of­fices of Speak­er Paul Ry­an and House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Kev­in Mc­Carthy both de­clined to com­ment for this story.

Lead­er­ship has ample reas­on to in­stall a more loy­al mem­ber atop the Over­sight Com­mit­tee. It is the only com­mit­tee with the power to com­pel de­pos­itions by sub­poena, and to hand that power to someone lead­er­ship can­not trust nor con­trol could prove to be a mis­take, es­pe­cially as ques­tions swirl around the Trump cam­paign’s ties to Rus­sia.

Jordan served du­ti­fully on the Benghazi Com­mit­tee, which Gowdy chaired, but after the in­vest­ig­a­tion, Jordan and then-Rep. Mike Pom­peo re­leased a re­port sep­ar­ate from Gowdy’s be­cause he be­lieved the chair­man did not go far enough in draw­ing con­clu­sions. Jordan has bucked lead­ers on over­sight mat­ters else­where as well. He was one of the mem­bers spear­head­ing an ul­ti­mately failed at­tempt to force a House vote to im­peach IRS Com­mis­sion­er John Koskin­en last year, des­pite the fact that lead­ers and rel­ev­ant com­mit­tee chairs wanted noth­ing to do with the ef­fort.

Gowdy, on the oth­er hand, is viewed as a team play­er, but he still has the con­ser­vat­ive bona fides and qual­i­fic­a­tions to ap­pease mem­bers of the Free­dom Caucus. A former pro­sec­utor with an acerbic wit, his chair­man­ship of the Benghazi Com­mit­tee cata­pul­ted him in­to con­ser­vat­ive celebrity­hood, and he is close with mem­bers of the Free­dom Caucus.

In fact, HFC mem­bers be­lieve he is so qual­i­fied for the job and has such a high pro­file among the Re­pub­lic­an base that he is the only per­son lead­er­ship could en­cour­age to run in­stead of Jordan who wouldn’t be met with total out­rage from the group.

“Lead­er­ship‘s go­ing with some­body that’s got a lot of juice in polit­ic­al terms,” San­ford said. “That’s just Polit­ic­al 101. He’s re­spec­ted by the Re­pub­lic­an base. He presents very well on tele­vi­sion, mak­ing the case.”

Gowdy de­clined to com­ment for this story, but his spokes­wo­man, Aman­da Gonza­lez, said he has not yet form­ally jumped in­to the race. “Rep. Gowdy is con­tinu­ing to speak with mem­bers in the con­fer­ence about the qual­it­ies they be­lieve are most im­port­ant for the next chair­man to pos­sess,” she said.

Mean­while, Rep. Steve Rus­sell said Tues­day he is also run­ning for the gavel. Rus­sell said he asked Gowdy’s ad­vice on the sub­ject be­fore Gowdy him­self was in the run­ning for the post, and that he was un­der the im­pres­sion as re­cently as a few weeks ago that Gowdy was not run­ning.

“He said he would not be pur­su­ing it. However, he did tell me hon­estly, as he al­ways does, that he was be­ing asked and pres­sured by a lot of people to con­sider it,” Rus­sell said. “Be­fore he had de­cided to enter the race, he had en­cour­aged me to do it. After he de­cided that he would be in it, he still en­cour­aged me to stay in it, to present my ideas.”

Rus­sell said he un­der­stands he would prob­ably be a long shot next to Gowdy, but noted that with Gowdy’s high pro­file, the chair­man­ship could be va­cant again in a few years and in that case, he could get a second look.

“Mr. Gowdy is a man of in­cred­ible in­tel­lect and ca­pa­city, and he’s also in high de­mand. Be­cause of that, I think we have to look long-range-stra­tegic­ally as well,” Rus­sell said. “Do we really think this will last six years? That’s the ques­tion we don’t know. So what I want to con­vey here is, ‘Hey, coach, you’ve got people that can play here.’”

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