WASHINGTON – The security at the U.S. border with Mexico. The origins of COVID-19. The treatment of parents who protest “woke” school board policies.
These are among the far-reaching and politically charged investigations House Republicans are launching, along with probes of President Joe Biden and his family, an ambitious oversight agenda that taps into the concerns of hard-right conservatives but risks alienating other Americans focused on different priorities.
Republicans have tasked every House committee with developing an oversight budget, and GOP leaders are educating rank-and-file lawmakers — many have never had subpoena powers — with how-to courses including “Investigations 101.” They are planning to take their investigations on the road to stir public interest, including a border hearing this week in Yuma, Arizona.
“We have a constitutional duty to do oversight," Rep. Jim Jordan told The Associated Press in an interview. He is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and its powerful new select subcommittee on what Republicans call the “weaponization” of the federal government.
Jordan, R-Ohio, said his goal is “to figure out what legislative changes need to be made to help stop the egregious behavior that we discovered.”
The approach is all part of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s effort to steer his new majority to one of the core roles of the legislative branch, oversight of the executive, as he promised voters ahead of the fall election. But powered by some of the more firebrand figures in the GOP, the investigations pose a high-risk, high-reward proposition that is quickly drowning out much of the other House business.
The first hearing of the “weaponization” of the federal government, perhaps the signature panel of the new House majority ostensibly modeled after the post-Watergate Church Commission, devolved into a litany of allegations and theories about the Bidens, the FBI and the coronavirus, among others. The far-flung ideas are familiar to consumers of conservative media, and often linked, but may not necessarily be top of mind for the wider public.
Timothy Naftali, a professor at New York University and a scholar of the Nixon era, said congressional oversight is one of the functions of good governance, but he warned that “one of the possible downsides is you end up with paralysis.”
“Oversight is healthy,” Naftali said. “Then it’s a question of what the goal of oversight is.”
Naftali said that while Americans may share many of the same questions and concerns Republicans are raising on topics like the origins of COVID-19 or the ability of the FBI to investigate Americans, he warned against a rising ”performative nature" of Congress that results in political grandstanding without concrete legislative or policy solutions.
“It's potentially very healthy if these investigations are animated by an empiricism — an ability to get to the facts,” he said. “But I’m not convinced of that.”
Rather than focus on a singular mission — as happened with the impeachment probes of President Donald Trump by Democrats or the Republican investigations of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya — Republicans have cast a net both deep and wide.
McCarthy, of California, laid out a road map last year and gathered key congressional staff for training sessions even before Republicans won the House majority in the fall election, according to a senior GOP leadership aide who insisted on anonymity to discuss the private machinations.
Some of the investigations underway into the U.S. border with Mexico are focused on potentially building an impeachment case against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
A coronavirus committee will dig into the work of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former National Institutes of Health official who served both Republican and Democratic presidents but came under scrutiny during the Trump era for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The workings of the Justice Department and particularly the FBI are under deep scrutiny, particularly as federal law enforcement works to stamp out the alarming rise of domestic extremism in the U.S., which Republicans argue is a heavy-handed and overblown infringement of Americans' First Amendment rights.
The Justice Department's prosecutions of Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, trying to overturn Biden's election victory and its investigations of parents making menacing and even threatening protests at school boards over the teaching of Black history or other “woke” policies are part of the GOP's probe of the FBI's handling of extremists.
Subpoenas have already been issued by Jordan’s committee to the five largest technology companies — Apple, Microsoft, Meta, Alphabet and Amazon — to appear for questioning about what Republicans assert is widespread corporate censorship of conservative voices.
There will be national security investigations by two committees surrounding Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, which ending the 20-year war, as well as the U.S. approach to China.
Since last summer, the White House has ramped up its ability to respond in real time to the House investigations, positioning personnel in various executive branch agencies to handle the onslaught of letters — and potential subpoenas — demanding information.
Inside the West Wing is a small team of lawyers and communications experts, some hand-picked and appointed by Biden, positioned to defend the Democratic president in what could shape up to be the biggest political battles in his career.
The Biden war room streams news outlets including Newsmax and Fox News Channel as aides prepare for attacks by House Republicans targeting the president's family, his administration and, ultimately, his legacy.
Outside the White House, various groups of Biden allies known for crisis management and battles with Congress have formed to churn out opposition research on the Republican lawmakers leading these investigations and provide real-time fact-checks of the GOP lawmakers' claims.
The White House sees the far-reaching Republican investigations as potentially overlapping and even interfering with one another and argues that the GOP priorities are not in line with those of the American people.
“Peddling debunked conspiracy theories through stunt investigations may make good fodder for Fox News primetime, but it won’t help make a dozen of eggs or a gallon of milk cheaper for American families,” Ian Sams, White House spokesperson for oversight and investigations, said in a statement to the AP.
In many ways, the oversight agenda stands in for legislative action as McCarthy is forced to steer a slim House majority whose ranks are often divided, which makes it difficult to pass his party’s bills.
Already the panels run by Jordan, a pugilistic politician and a former wrestling coach, have issued hundreds of letters and begun taking private transcribed interviews from people with information about the FBI that may or may not be made public.
Jordan said he hopes to eventually offer legislation that would change some ways the federal government operates.
“You know, my attitude is you just dig in there and talk to as many folks as you can, get as many documents as you can, and you get the facts to the American people," he said.