How Democrats Can Survive the GOP Surveillance Tsunami



When the Tea Party wave swept Republicans into the House majority in 2010, they had only one goal: to end Barack Obama’s presidency by overwhelming his administration with investigations and subpoenas. . Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the top Republican on the powerful House Oversight Committee, and my boss at the time, said he wanted “seven hearings a week, times 40 weeks.”

That’s exactly what Republicans are hoping to do to President Joe Biden with their new House majority and instruments of congressional scrutiny. Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio and James Comer of Kentucky, the top Republicans on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, respectively, have made no secret that they intend to use the power of the hammer to launch successive investigations targeting, among others, the Ministry of Justice. Department and the FBI, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and the president’s family, including his son Hunter. Do you remember Benghazi? Prepare for more of the same, much more of the same.

Congressional Democrats are now the Biden administration’s first line of defense. And they will have a series of back-to-back decisions to make about who they appoint to serve on Republican-led committees. The Biden administration’s best chance of resisting these politically charged investigations may come down to Democrats’ willingness to subvert tradition and ignore seniority, as they did when Issa became president a decade ago. year.

At the time, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee was mild-mannered Rep. Ed Towns of New York. After Issa trampled on him for two years, the Democratic leadership realized it had to recalibrate if it had any chance of blunting Issa’s probes and salvaging Obama’s agenda. The Democrats have gotten smart. They broke the precedent of letting the most senior member automatically assume the ranking position and ruled out cities. The plan was to bypass the older Carolyn Maloney and raise Elijah Cummings.

Cummings was a powerful speaker and a brilliant tactician, and he was always disciplined in his approach to audiences: the perfect foil for the most impulsive Issa. We knew this was a problem, so much so that we worked behind the scenes to try to bolster Maloney’s campaign to be the ranking member. I remember trying to divulge stories about how Issa hated her, and that the worst thing that could happen from her point of view would be to make her his counterpart. Our plan obviously didn’t work: Cummings became the ranking member. But history tells you how great we considered him.

When Democrats underestimated the Republican oversight offensive, they were crushed. When they recalibrated, they were very successful in blunting Issa. (Google Sandra Fluke if you need an example.) Now, all these years later, Democrats face another pivotal moment. The Republicans regained the majority in the House. But this majority is far too small to yield significant political victories. So they will once again have to rely on their watchdog show to wield their power and to keep the GOP base engaged and restless.

Never mind that they have spent the past six years completely undermining congressional oversight. Never mind that when Donald Trump was president and they had a majority, they suddenly lost their appetite for rigorous oversight of the executive branch. Never mind that they defied congressional subpoenas and took a wrecking ball for the checks and balances system.

They are betting that while the media reports on their fishing expeditions disguised as investigations, they will not provide that context to the American people. It’s not a bad bet. Case in point: Jim Jordan’s recently published “report” on the so-called politicization of the FBI which made headlines for its “extent” – except that, of the 1,050 pages provided, about 1,000 of them were just old letters. The Republicans had sent the administration. It was not a report; it was a retread old material. Republicans assumed that volume could replace substance and that some media outlets would fall for it. They were right.

Once I worked for the Republicans. Now I advise the Democrats. My professional opinion is that Democrats should again ignore seniority. Just as Issa raised and recruited members such as Jordan, Mark Meadows, Mike Pompeo and Patrick McHenry – all of whom would become major figures in Trump’s remade version of the Republican Party – Democrats must now answer the call and raise their better communicators. After all, the #1 mission of the Democratic minority should be communication. Jamie Raskin and David Cicilline are among the obvious candidates for the most important positions in the field of surveillance and justice.

Democrats should also get used to viewing oversight and justice as one entity to avoid jurisdictional headaches. During the Obama years, Issa sat on both panels at the same time. Jordan brought most of his oversight staff to the Judiciary Committee. In anticipation of the “red wave” victory, Jordan and Comer scheduled a joint press conference to announce their surveillance program, signaling their intention to synchronize their efforts to overthrow the Biden administration. The wave never materialized, but they clearly realize that timing is key to the tactical success of the surveillance operation.

Seniority and ceremonial should not guide decisions. Republicans will do whatever they can to overthrow the Democratic administration, just like they did when Issa was in charge, except this time they will do it in the service of an authoritarian in waiting. Democrats cannot risk being caught off guard again.

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