Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) were among several outspoken progressives named Tuesday to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Tlaib, the freshman congresswoman who used profane, impassioned language in promising to impeach President Trump, and Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, will ensure that the committee will be a high-profile forum in which Democrats will go toe-to-toe with the Trump administration. The panel’s subpoena power could be a powerful weapon in their arsenal.
“I’m not going to be handing out subpoenas like somebody’s handing out candy on Halloween," the committee’s chairman, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), said after the midterm election on ABC’s “This Week.”
But restive members on his side of the aisle may accept nothing less. Along with Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez, the committee will add to its ranks left-wing Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).
The additions were announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has hardly shrunk from confrontations with the president. And Cummings, for all his avowed restraint, has also made his mission clear.
“We want to figure out if the president is acting in the interests of the American people or in his own financial interest,” he told The Washington Post last year.
The committee’s new members will bring a new approach, born in the bare-knuckle disputes of the Trump era.
Ocasio-Cortez already has threatened one Trump with subpoena power. In December, when Donald Trump Jr. shared an image of the congresswoman-elect on Instagram suggesting that socialism would end in Americans having dogs for dinner, she fired back on Twitter.
Twitter was also the platform on which the young lawmakers embraced their new mission — with typical savoir faire.
Even before the new appointments, the House Oversight Committee was destined to be a key battleground of a newly divided government. Cummings has said Democrats will seek to review Trump’s tax returns and to look into the relationship between the federal government and the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
In December, the Maryland Democrat sent more than 50 requests for documents on matters as wide-ranging as the president’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and Ivanka Trump’s use of personal email. Although many of those requests already had been made and rejected under the GOP-controlled panel, Cummings said Democrats wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“As Democrats prepare to take the reins in Congress, we are insisting — as a basic first step — that the Trump administration and others comply with these Republican requests,” the 13-term congressman said.
Over the years, Capitol Hill has offered a dramatic stage for revelations about government malfeasance, including the Teapot Dome scandal, Watergate and the Iran-contra affair.
The House Oversight Committee also has been used as a tool in partisan warfare. In 2015, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), then-House majority leader and now the minority leader, credited the long-running House investigation of the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 with lowering Hillary Clinton’s stature.
Pressed by Sean Hannity of Fox News Channel to name GOP accomplishments, McCarthy, considered at the time to be the speaker-in-waiting, pointed to Republican efforts to paint the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee as untrustworthy.
“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” he asked. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”
Amid the longest government shutdown in history, Trump’s approval rating is decreasing. His net rating has fallen by seven points since December, according to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey conducted from Jan. 10 to Jan. 13.
The president has promised to fight fire with fire when it comes to congressional investigations, pledging in a tweet after the midterm election, “Two can play that game!”
How Democrats decide to play the game — or whether they make it one in the first place — could become clear as soon as next month, when Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer, testifies before the panel.
“We haven’t figured all this out yet,” Cummings told The Post in November. By the time Cohen appears on Feb. 7, the chairman will have had exactly three months to figure all this out.