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If the Senate or the House if or both switch to Republican control come January, you can expect a different approach on government oversight. Joining the Federal Drive with Tom Temin with some of the specifics you might be able to expect, the Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at Brookings, Molly Reynolds.
Tom Temin: And we don’t predict elections around here. So we have no idea how this is going to come out, I guess the best anyone can guess is toss up. But let’s say one of the houses of Congress, one of the chambers changes, you’ve written that agencies should expect some different scrutiny from different people on different vectors.
Molly Reynolds: Absolutely. So if we look back over kind of the long postwar history of Congress and the President, we see a lot of evidence that when the House or Senate is controlled by one party, and the White House is controlled by the other party, we see more aggressive oversight of the executive branch. So more investigations, more just trying to examine what the executive branch, the White House agencies are doing. And I think in the current environment, this is a place where it’s pretty easy when the majority switches from one party to the other, to turn the bus pretty quickly. So when we think about oversight as compared to legislating, when there’s a shift in the majority, and the other party takes over control of the committees, they can really have a big effect on oversight priorities very quickly. They can can pivot from what the previous majority was doing in one Congress to a different set of issues and different focus areas in the new Congress. That’s really aimed at being more aggressive towards the executive branch.
Tom Temin: And you mentioned legislation. And I guess it’s fair to say that it’s unlikely that even if the Republicans do flip the House and the Senate, that doesn’t mean they would have all this legislative control, because they wouldn’t be likely to have the kinds of majorities present to be able to overcome vetoes.
Molly Reynolds: Absolutely. So I think in, I don’t predict elections, either. But I think even in the kind of best scenarios for Republicans, that folks who do predict elections have put forward, they would be likely to still have a pretty narrow majority, especially in the Senate, which is right now divided evenly at 50 – 50. And again, really not enough votes, in many cases to overcome a filibuster, let alone overcome the threat of a veto. if the House and Senate were to pass something that President Biden vetoed.
Tom Temin: Yeah, sounds like a blast. What agencies do you think could feel the most stormy conditions? I’m guessing Homeland Security? Because that’s just a great proxy for so many of the arguments happening on Capitol Hill already?
Molly Reynolds: Sure. So I would expect absolutely the Department of Homeland Security, particularly around issues related to immigration enforcement would be a place where we would see a lot of aggressive oversight from Republicans, because some other places,, other specific issues that Republicans have talked about, wanting to be aggressive on, includes things related to COVID policy. And, for example, if the Senate shifts to Republican control, there’s been a lot of discussion of the fact that one of the possible new Republican chairman of the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is Rand Paul, who has obviously been quite outspoken on his desire to sort of investigate aspects of the administration’s policy towards COVID. I think we could also see, on the foreign policy side, a lot of aggressive effort to oversee the conduct of U..S aid to the Ukraine conflict, the Ukrainians in that conflict. And then, more generally, I also think we would expect Republicans, especially if they take control of the House, to engage in some investigations that are more targeted at kind of President Biden personally. So there’s been lots of kind of foreshadowing of the possibility of an investigation of, say, Hunter Biden, and that’s less about executive agencies. But again, if we think that there’s kind of a fixed amount of effort that a chamber is going to devote to oversight, and some of that ends up being on kind of a precedent personally and personal scandals, as opposed to actual executive branch operations. That also means that we we are losing Congress as it’s sort of fulfilling one of its constitutional responsibilities, which is to provide a check on executive power.
Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Molly Reynoldss Senior fellow in governance studies at Brookings, and what about the Defense Department and the whole defense budget, that whole complex, contentious anyway. But even more now, so since you mentioned Ukraine, and there’s the question of whether our supplies and stocks are sufficient for what might happen in the world, that tends to be a lot of oversight and back and forth to doesn’t it?
Molly Reynolds: Absolutely. And I, again, I would expect that in, in a Republican controlled House and or Senate, there would be a fair amount of oversight in the in the defense space. Kevin McCarthy, who’s the current House Minority Leader, is the kind of presumptive favorite to be the Speaker of the House, if Republicans do take control of the House, has made some comments suggesting that a condition of continued support for aid to Ukraine from congressional Republicans would be more aggressive oversight of that conflict. I think we can also expect to see perhaps some effort to look back at the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which remains a contentious topic for congressional Republicans in terms of the Biden administration’s conduct there. And again, just generally going forward is there’s so much activity in that space. And it is so closely identified with the administration that, you know, a Congress where one or both houses is controlled by the other party would likely see a lot of low hanging-fruit there to try to look at.
Tom Temin: It sounds like the American people would get a big dose of stalemate peppered with a lot of nastiness.
Molly Reynolds: I think that’s I think that’s a fair expectation. You know, I think, as I said before, it’s so much easier to shift priorities in the oversight space when a majority changes, then it is to shift legislative priorities simply because of the math involved in trying to legislate under divided government, that I do think a lot of Republicans energy will be spent on oversight activities in the new Congress.
Tom Temin: And just a quick question on that idea of impeachment. I think I heard on one of the cable networks the other day, the Republicans are some of them anyway, have articles of impeachment they would like to bring forward even now they know what they want to do should they gain that majority. Impeachment seems to become a tool that has become something politicians more and more often use simply on a Quick Draw McGraw basis used quite often, pretty much every administration now if that should come to pass?
Molly Reynolds: Yeah, I think it’s an it’s an interesting question about whether we’ll see the Republicans, especially in the House, who have started to telegraph plans to bring impeachment votes to the floor in the House, if they follow through on that threat. There are tools that individual members have to force at least a procedural vote related to impeachment. Leaders, even of the majority party tend not to like those votes, they tend not to like things that kind of undermine their control of the floor, even if they are coming from members of their own party. So I’ll be paying attention to that. But I think you’re right, that we have seen somewhat of a shift in the way that impeachment is used, especially in the House. And the the idea that folks will bring votes related to impeachment, even if they know that the vote is, is or the vote itself is going to fail. Or even if it’s a successful vote in the House, the overall impeachment process will be futile. It won’t actually bring about removal of the person in question. I think that’s just a reflection of the increasing kind of weaponization of all of Congress’s legislative and procedural and investigative tools in pursuit of partisan political.
Tom Temin: Well, we’ll know in a couple of days what’s going to happen. With any luck, we’ll have an idea on Wednesday morning. Molly Reynolds, is senior fellow in governance studies at Brookings.