Politics

Jim Jordan for Oversight Chairman? ‘We’ll See’

Former Freedom Caucus chairman leaves open bid for Chaffetz gavel

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, center, is the highest ranking Freedom Caucus member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan signaled Wednesday he might be interested in leading the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee should current Chairman Jason Chaffetz decide to leave Congress early, as has been speculated since the Utah Republican announced he would not run for re-election in 2018.

“We’ll see if and when that happens,” Jordan said when asked if he would vie for the gavel.

A former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, Jordan’s ascent would be a win for the conservative group in its quest to angle into a high profile post — despite it being one that, at least for the current Congress, would involve oversight of a president from its own party.

Current Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said Jordan would be an ideal choice because he would not back away from the political complexities of such a setup.

“The best choice for the Trump administration, the best choice for the speaker would be to have a Chairman Jim Jordan,” Meadows said. “If there’s ever an OGR committee chairman that members of the other party would consider holding this president accountable, it would be Chairman Jim Jordan — in a fair way.”

The Oversight chairmanship is chosen by the Republican Steering Committee, which is led by Speaker Paul D. Ryan and the next four top lawmakers in GOP leadership. A Freedom Caucus member gunning for a committee chairmanship could be seen as a long shot since the group often butts heads with party leadership.

Jordan frequently breaks with the GOP conference, as he did when he unabashedly opposed a recent effort last month to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law. He was joined by almost every other member of the nearly 40-person group.

Chaffetz’s departure, the timing of which is unclear, would create an opening on a House panel with jurisdiction over the executive branch and the District of Columbia.

The position has catapulted former chairmen to national recognition, most recently Chaffetz, who went after the Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton relentlessly.

He even suggested that he would continue to investigate Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of State, even after she lost the 2016 presidential election.

The Utah Republican, however, had been criticized once Donald Trump assumed the presidency for not digging into Trump’s potential conflicts of interest. He was accused of taking a soft approach toward a GOP White House as opposed to aggressively going after a Democratic one.

Chaffetz was among several Republicans who faced hostile town halls this year, where he was booed and jeered by crowds over everything from his role on Oversight to immigration and public lands.

Chaffetz announced he would not be seeking re-election April 19, then suggested to a local radio station he may not finish out his congressional term. He also left open the door to run for governor in 2020.

He did not stop to take questions from reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Neither did several top Oversight Committee members, including California Rep. Darrell Issa, the third in line, who once chaired the panel and could again if leaders signed off. Issa was also an outspoken leader of the committee under the Obama administration.

Tennessee’s John J. Duncan Jr. is the second-highest ranking GOP member of the committee. His staff did not answer multiple inquiries into his interest in leading the panel should Chaffetz step down.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, who gained national attention leading the special committee charged with investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi after questioning Clinton for hours, demurred about who might be interested in chairing the full Oversight committee.

“I’m not in Steering, I’m not in leadership,” Gowdy said. “I’m just a back bencher.”

The panel’s top Democrat, Maryland’s Elijah E. Cummings, also said he didn’t know who might be interested in replacing Chaffetz.

Days after the chairman announced he was not going to seek his House seat for a sixth term, Chaffetz and Cummings made a joint public appearance to announce a rare note of accord.

The top Oversight lawmakers announced for the first time that classified military documents from the Pentagon showed there was no evidence former national security adviser Michael Flynn complied with the law when he received payments from the Russian government in 2015.

Flynn resigned from his post in February after it was revealed he had inappropriate contact with the Russian ambassador and later misled the White House about it. Cummings wants Flynn to testify before the committee.

Asked if Chaffetz felt he had more flexibility to go after the administration now that he doesn’t have a re-election campaign to worry about, Cummings said that was a possibility.

“He hasn’t told me that, but, I mean, it’s just logical,” the Maryland Democrat said. “Whether he’ll do it is a whole other thing.”

Contact Rahman at remarahman@cqrollcall.com or follow her on Twitter at @remawriter.

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