The House Judiciary Committee is losing its chairman next year, creating an unusually wide-open race for one of the most powerful gavels in Congress.
Behind Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteRosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee next week Conservative pressure on Sessions grows Clock ticking down on NSA surveillance powers MORE (R-Va.), who is retiring at the end of his term, is a deeply unsettled committee bench whose senior ranks have been decimated by retirements.
This likely means that several candidates will jockey to take over leadership of the committee, which has sprawling jurisdiction over issues like gun control, surveillance law and patent reform.
“As you go down the dais, there’s not a clear heir apparent chairman,” said one Republican aide closely tracking the race.
Change is also coming to the Democratic side of the panel, where the ranking member slot is up for grabs due to the resignation of Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersAbortion-rights group endorses Nadler in race to replace Conyers on Judiciary Democrats turn on Al Franken Michigan state senator to run for Congress MORE Jr. (D-Mich.). If Democrats win back the House next year, the ranking member would likely become Judiciary chairman in 2019.
That means that, one way or another, there will soon be a dramatic reshaping of a committee that Goodlatte has run with an iron fist.
One of the Republicans considering a bid for the gavel is Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsOvernight Regulation: GOP flexes power over consumer agency | Trump lets states expand drone use | Senate panel advances controversial EPA pick | House passes bill to curb ‘sue-and-settle’ regs Overnight Cybersecurity: Lawmakers grill Trump officials over Kaspersky threat | Trump camp distances itself from data firm | What we know about Bad Rabbit | Conservative groups back data privacy bill House passes bill to curb sue-and-settle regulation MORE (R-Ga.), a well-liked member of House GOP leadership who is far less senior than several of his colleagues who are also eyeing the job.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyTop intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father Overnight Cybersecurity: Panel pushes agencies on dropping Kaspersky software | NC county won’t pay ransom to hackers | Lawmakers sound alarm over ISIS ‘cyber caliphate’ Flynn told associate Russia sanctions would be ‘ripped up’ early in Trump presidency MORE (R-S.C.) is also seen as a strong contender, but to take over Judiciary he would have to give up the Oversight gavel that he took up just six months ago, when Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzDem demands documents from TSA after scathing security report Chaffetz replacement sworn in as House member Democrats expand House map after election victories MORE (R-Utah) retired.
Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaTrump-free Kennedy Center Honors avoids politics Giffords gun group targets Issa over concealed carry bill The Hill Interview: Missouri Republican has gavel on his radar MORE (R-Calif.) wants the Judiciary position, but he faces a tough reelection race next year in a district that is trending toward Democrats. Even if Issa wins another term, it’s an open question whether House leadership would support his bid, given his tumultuous tenure as Oversight chairman during the Obama administration.
The most senior member of Judiciary weighing a run is Rep. Steve ChabotSteven (Steve) Joseph ChabotRichard Gere returning to Capitol Hill to talk Tibet House rep touts GOP’s commitment to small businesses Rep. Chabot backs federal contractors’ outcry over executive orders MORE (R-Ohio), who currently chairs the House Small Business Committee. But Chabot is also in a strong position to seek the House Foreign Affairs Committee gavel, another panel he says he’s interested in leading.
Those tracking the Judiciary race say one of the House Freedom Caucus members on the committee might also make a play for the chairmanship, but it’s unlikely they would get the backing of House leadership. Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanOvernight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges ‘entitlement reform’ next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Overnight Finance: Trump says shutdown ‘could happen’ | Ryan, conservatives inch closer to spending deal | Senate approves motion to go to tax conference | Ryan promises ‘entitlement reform’ in 2018 House conservatives, Ryan inch closer toward spending deal MORE (R-Ohio), the former chairman of the Freedom Caucus whom many in the group wanted to become Oversight chairman, declined to comment on the Judiciary race this week.
Judiciary is stacked with Freedom Caucus lawmakers, but some of the other more senior members are already out of the running. Rep. Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksHouse forges ahead with Dec. 22 spending bill Conservatives fear end-of-year ‘Christmas tree’ spending bill Adoption tax credit restored after conservative backlash MORE (R-Ariz.) abruptly resigned on Friday over allegations of inappropriate conduct with staff, and Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) is running for governor of his home state in 2018.
Behind Goodlatte in seniority is Rep. Jim SensenbrennerFrank (Jim) James SensenbrennerClock ticking down on NSA surveillance powers It’s time to end big government spying on American citizens Dalai Lama worried US becoming more ‘selfish, nationalist’ MORE (R-Wis.), a former chairman of the committee. But although the rules permit Sensenbrenner to seek the position for a second time, he will not do so, according to an aide.
Each of the lawmakers eyeing the post cautioned that it was still far too early to set their strategy — “I have no idea what I’m going to have for supper tonight,” quipped Gowdy — but the early positioning has begun.
Collins, at least, said he has gotten some “encouragement” from the Steering Committee, which will choose the next chairman. But when the time comes, there will be a new bench on that 32-member panel, largely made up of leadership loyalists.
The wild card, aides watching the nascent race say, will be Gowdy. For now, the 53-year-old former prosecutor — a top leadership ally — is keeping his options open.
Gowdy, who rose to prominence as the head of the Select Committee on Benghazi, is one of three Republicans leading the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the election. His Oversight Committee also recently announced a joint investigation with the Intelligence panel into the 2010 sale of a Canadian mining company with holdings in the U.S. to Russia.
But speaking to The Hill on Thursday, Gowdy left little doubt where his preferences lie.
“If [House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: ‘I worry about both sides’ of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges ‘entitlement reform’ next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids MORE (R-Wis.)] came to me and said ‘You can only have one committee, I’m going to take the other three away from you,’ as much as I love [Intelligence] and Oversight, I would say ‘give me Judiciary,’ ” he said.
Whoever takes over Judiciary after Goodlatte’s departure will inherit a swath of hot-button issues — including the responsibility for impeachment proceedings against federal officials.
Some Democrats have openly called for the House to initiate impeachment proceedings for President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE, a non-starter under Republican leadership.
But encouraged by a national election sweep in local races across the country last month, Democrats are increasingly bullish about their chances of claiming the 24 seats they would need to regain the majority next year.
Should Democrats win back the House, the push for impeaching Trump could be intense. On Wednesday, 58 Democrats voted in favor of an impeachment resolution, and many said they aren’t ruling out supporting impeachment once the results of the various Russia investigations become public.
That leaves open the question of who would preside over such an effort.
Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenAbortion-rights group endorses Nadler in race to replace Conyers on Judiciary Dems aim to elect Conyers replacement on Judiciary this month Conyers resigns amid sexual misconduct allegations MORE (D-Calif.), a privacy hawk and immigration lawyer, is running for the ranking member slot against the acting ranking member, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
Nadler is the most senior Democrat on the committee, but Lofgren is a veteran lawmaker from California, the home state of House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D’Alesandro PelosiMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Abortion-rights group endorses Nadler in race to replace Conyers on Judiciary Trump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting MORE.
Democrats will hold their election to replace Conyers next week, according to Nadler.