House creates powerful panel to investigate federal coronavirus response

The House voted on Thursday to establish a new panel with broad authority to oversee the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic, ahead of another vote to approve more than $480 billion to respond to the U.S. COVID-19 outbreak and its fallout.The vote was 212-182, with the committee approved largely along party lines.The panel, which will be a select investigative subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee, will have far-reaching power to investigate how the trillions of dollars already approved by Congress for coronavirus relief are being used. It will be able to issue subpoenas, review U.S. preparedness for the crisis and examine decisions about the crisis within the administration.According to the text of the resolution establishing the panel, it is authorized to “conduct a full and complete investigation” and “issue a final report to the House of its findings” on a wide array of aspects of the federal response to the pandemic, including “executive branch policies, deliberations, decisions, activities, and internal and external communications related to the coronavirus crisis.”Congressional Republicans have argued another committee dedicated to the coronavirus response is unnecessary given other oversight mechanisms set in place to monitor the implementation of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act and other relief measures.”The Congress already has significant oversight tools at our disposal,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the House Rules Committee.”It’s entirely plausible for one to conclude that this new select committee will simply turn into yet another partisan witch hunt aimed at damaging the president,” he added.Some Republicans on Thursday also raised concerns with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s selection for committee chairman, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, because he is a staunch supporter of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.”I respect the chair greatly. He is one of the best political minds I know. Joe Biden will tell you that,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said of Clyburn, pushing back on the choice for him to lead the committee. “You see, our dear friend Congressman Clyburn, he should be credited for getting Joe Biden the nomination.” Clyburn endorsed Biden before the South Carolina primary.Pelosi has repeatedly rebutted the idea that the committee will be a partisan exercise, saying oversight of the Trump administration’s initial response to the pandemic can’t wait until an after-action review.”This isn’t about assigning blame, this is about taking responsibility and to be able to answer for what we have put forth that it really did work,” she said on the House floor ahead of the vote.She added that the committee “will be laser-focused on ensuring that taxpayer money goes to workers’ paychecks and benefits and will ensure that the federal response is based on the best possible science and guided by health experts and that the money invested is not being exploited by profiteers and price gougers.”The committee will consist of seven Democrats and five Republicans, according to the text of the resolution. It will probe the “efficiency, effectiveness, equity and transparency” of taxpayer funds used to respond to the crisis and will investigate reports of waste, fraud and abuse of funds being spent.It will also be able to study the economic impact and disparate impacts of the crisis on different communities.

The House voted on Thursday to establish a new panel with broad authority to oversee the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic, ahead of another vote to approve more than $480 billion to respond to the U.S. COVID-19 outbreak and its fallout.

The vote was 212-182, with the committee approved largely along party lines.

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The panel, which will be a select investigative subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee, will have far-reaching power to investigate how the trillions of dollars already approved by Congress for coronavirus relief are being used. It will be able to issue subpoenas, review U.S. preparedness for the crisis and examine decisions about the crisis within the administration.

According to the text of the resolution establishing the panel, it is authorized to “conduct a full and complete investigation” and “issue a final report to the House of its findings” on a wide array of aspects of the federal response to the pandemic, including “executive branch policies, deliberations, decisions, activities, and internal and external communications related to the coronavirus crisis.”

Congressional Republicans have argued another committee dedicated to the coronavirus response is unnecessary given other oversight mechanisms set in place to monitor the implementation of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act and other relief measures.

“The Congress already has significant oversight tools at our disposal,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the House Rules Committee.

“It’s entirely plausible for one to conclude that this new select committee will simply turn into yet another partisan witch hunt aimed at damaging the president,” he added.

Some Republicans on Thursday also raised concerns with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s selection for committee chairman, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, because he is a staunch supporter of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.

“I respect the chair greatly. He is one of the best political minds I know. Joe Biden will tell you that,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said of Clyburn, pushing back on the choice for him to lead the committee. “You see, our dear friend Congressman Clyburn, he should be credited for getting Joe Biden the nomination.” Clyburn endorsed Biden before the South Carolina primary.

Pelosi has repeatedly rebutted the idea that the committee will be a partisan exercise, saying oversight of the Trump administration’s initial response to the pandemic can’t wait until an after-action review.

“This isn’t about assigning blame, this is about taking responsibility and to be able to answer for what we have put forth that it really did work,” she said on the House floor ahead of the vote.

She added that the committee “will be laser-focused on ensuring that taxpayer money goes to workers’ paychecks and benefits and will ensure that the federal response is based on the best possible science and guided by health experts and that the money invested is not being exploited by profiteers and price gougers.”

The committee will consist of seven Democrats and five Republicans, according to the text of the resolution. It will probe the “efficiency, effectiveness, equity and transparency” of taxpayer funds used to respond to the crisis and will investigate reports of waste, fraud and abuse of funds being spent.

It will also be able to study the economic impact and disparate impacts of the crisis on different communities.