House votes to create select committee to oversee coronavirus response
The House on Thursday voted to create a select committee to oversee the federal response to the coronavirus crisis, with Republicans accusing Democrats of trying to use it as a cudgel against President Trump during an election year.
The panel, to be led by House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), is set up to include 12 members — seven Democrats and five Republicans — and will have broad investigative authority over how taxpayer dollars are allocated and the Trump administration’s preparations for the crisis.
A resolution to formally establish the select committee passed on a vote of 212-182 along party lines, with Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) voting with Republicans in opposition.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the creation of the committee earlier this month, but Thursday was the first time the full House could vote to officially establish the panel.
“The committee will root out waste, fraud and abuse,” Pelosi said during House floor debate. “It will be laser-focused on ensuring that taxpayer money goes to workers, paychecks and benefits. And it 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 select panel, which will established as an investigative subcommittee of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, will be charged with reviewing the “efficiency, effectiveness, equity and transparency” of how relief funds are allocated; disparate impacts of the coronavirus on different communities based on demographics such as race, age and geographic region; and the Trump administration’s deliberations and communications related to the crisis.
Republicans dismissed the panel as unnecessary, pointing to the existing House committees with jurisdiction over the coronavirus pandemic like the full Oversight committee and the Ways and Means, Financial Services, Education and Labor, and Energy and Commerce committees.
The previous coronavirus relief package also established a congressional oversight commission, a special inspector general for pandemic recovery, and another committee made of inspectors general from relevant agencies to oversee the law's implementation.
GOP lawmakers also argued the select committee was an attempt to find ways to make the president look bad ahead of the November election.
Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee and a fierce defender of Trump during the impeachment inquiry last year, said the select panel is “just a continuation of the attack that the Democrats have had on the president for the past four years.”
“Now this. A select committee in an election year, the summer of an election year, to attack the president,” Jordan said, adding that it will be led by the “biggest supporter of the Democrats' nominee for president.”
Clyburn’s endorsement of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was viewed as key in helping the former vice president turn his campaign around, starting with a win in the South Carolina primary in February.
But Democrats maintained that a crisis of the pandemic’s magnitude — and the trillions of dollars already spent to boost the government’s response — warranted a special oversight arm.
"It's hard to believe what we're hearing here. My friends on one hand are telling the American people that we all care deeply about oversight, we all want to make sure that the money's being spent properly. But yet they're opposed to this,” said House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).
Pelosi has not yet named the other Democratic members of the panel. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Wednesday that he will wait to name members until after seeing who Pelosi appoints.
"Will it be equal? Will it be the same number of Republicans and Democrats, like the congressional one? No," McCarthy said during floor debate on Thursday. "You see, this committee will be the only committee weighted politically."
Thursday’s vote marked the first time in four weeks that House members gathered as a group in the Capitol.
House officials implemented new safety protocols for Thursday’s debate and votes, including limiting the number of members on the floor at a time and encouraging everyone to wear masks.
Most lawmakers wore masks but removed them to speak during floor debate, although a handful of Republicans notably did not wear masks at all. The roll-call vote to adopt the resolution to create the select committee took more than an hour to complete because lawmakers had to vote in time slots by alphabetical order.
The House is also slated to vote Thursday to clear an interim $484 billion aid package to renew funding for the popular small-business loan program and provide resources to hospitals and testing efforts. The small-business loan program ran out of funds last week due to high demand.