Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that she is forming a bipartisan House select committee on the coronavirus crisis. But in order to establish the panel, the House would need to vote and it’s unlikely they’ll be able to do that with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy opposed and members not in Washington.
The speaker has the power to propose a select committee but the House must vote on a resolution to establish one. Republicans don’t appear ready to agree to a unanimous consent request or voice vote on such a resolution.
McCarthy told reporters Thursday that he doesn’t see a need for a select committee at this time.
“I’m not sure what this is supposed to do,” the California Republican said.
Pelosi announced her plan for a select committee on a conference call with reporters that started at 10:45 a.m. McCarthy said Pelosi called him about 30 minutes before that but he was on another call. Speaking on his own conference call with reporters that started at 11:30 a.m., McCarthy said he would call Pelosi back after he was done with the press call.
Even if Pelosi were to convince McCarthy of the need for a select committee, any one member can throw a wrench in the plan, like Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie did by forcing leadership to gather a quorum of the House in the Capitol on Friday to pass a more than $2 trillion stimulus package.
Another obstacle to Pelosi getting unanimous support for the select committee is her decision to name Majority Whip James E. Clyburn as chairman of the panel. The South Carolina Democrat provided the GOP with a source of political attack lines during the debate over the stimulus bill because he had told his party they could use the sweeping measure as an opportunity to enact long-held party priorities like voting reform and climate initiatives.
McCarthy said he was concerned that Pelosi would pick Clyburn to chair the select committee because he thought this was an “opportune time to restructure government.”
Republicans could also be concerned about Clyburn’s role as prominent campaign surrogate for former Vice President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic presidential nominee. They may not feel like he’s the best person to lead a panel that Pelosi said would be tasked with overseeing President Donald Trump and his administration’s implementation of the more than $2 trillion in coronavirus relief Congress has passed in three bills.
“We need to ensure those dollars are spent carefully and effectively,” the speaker said, likening the select committee to a panel then Sen. Harry Truman led during World War II to oversee the national defense program.
“What made sense then makes even more sense now,” Pelosi added. “We have no higher priority than to make sure the money gets to those working families — struggling to pay rent, put food on the table — who need it most.”
The main purpose of the select committee is to ensure money the government appropriates or loans during the crisis — both funds already enacted into law and those yet to come in future legislation — are spent wisely and effectively, the California Democrat said.
“The panel will root out waste, fraud and abuse,” Pelosi said. “It will protect against price gouging, profiteering and political favoritism. It will press to ensure that the federal response is based on the best possible science and guided by the nation’s best experts.”
As the select committee will be empowered to examine all aspects of the federal response, it will also have subpoena power.
“It’s no use having a committee unless you have subpoena power,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi said that although she supports an eventual after-action review on the Trump administration’s early response to the coronavirus crisis, the select committee will not be focused on that.
“The select committee is about the here and now,” she said. “Right now we just have to get through this. But as we do, we don’t want to make more mistakes.”