WASHINGTON — Republicans are about to give one of the top committee posts in the House to a guy who has never said he wants the job: South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy.
Gowdy is expected to be chosen this week to take over the chairmanship of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, despite the fact he has not said he is running for the position.
The Republican Steering Committee — which is made up of Republican leadership and other representatives — will meet this week to choose a replacement for Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who has announced he will retire from Congress on June 30th.
Gowdy represents an attempt at compromise. The upstart conservative Freedom Caucus wanted one of their own for the job, but the group has been a thorn in the side of party leadership, and nearly killed Speaker Paul Ryan's Affordable Care Act repeal bill. Gowdy is one of the few non-Freedom Caucus lawmakers that members of the group will endorse for the chairmanship.
Gowdy is closely aligned with Republican leadership, but has also earned the respect of members of the GOP’s far right. Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, a Freedom Caucus member, said Gowdy “is tried, tested and exactly what the committee needs at this time.”
This isn’t the first time Gowdy has been put up for a position he didn’t seek. Gowdy chaired the special committee to investigate the terrorist attack in Benghazi in 2012 and recently was named a top Republican in the House Intelligence Committee’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
In addition to Oversight and Intelligence, Gowdy sits on the Judiciary Committee, which puts him on the House committees investigating Russian meddling in the presidential election. His name recently was on the short list to replace former FBI Director James Comey, whose firing last month is already a key element of the probe.
Despite Gowdy's credentials, some conservative members of the committee are frustrated with what they feel has been an unfair selection process, even if they think Gowdy will do a good job.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is more senior on the committee than Gowdy is and had previously signaled his interest in the chairmanship. Jordan is a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus and the Oversight Committee has more than a half-dozen members who belong to the group. But questions were raised about whether House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would allow a flamethrower to get such a powerful position and Jordan ultimately said he wasn't going to run.
Darin Miller, a spokesman for Jordan, told USA TODAY said that despite Jordan’s qualifications “the steering committee isn’t going to pick someone like Rep. Jordan who has demonstrated his willingness to stand up to leaders in both political parties.”
“I think that Jim is an eminently qualified guy,” said Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., who is also on the Oversight Committee and a member of the Freedom Caucus. “But (Jordan’s) analysis was ‘this is a closed case this is already decided and I don’t want to get in a race that I have no shot of winning.’”
Sanford had also been interested in the post — though he said he would defer to the more-senior Jordan if he wanted to run. After Jordan declined to run, Sanford also concluded it was a lost cause.
“I’ve done my share of races over the years and the cardinal rule of politics is you don’t get into races you can’t win,” Sanford said. Sanford is in his sixth term in Congress and was also governor of South Carolina.
Another Freedom Caucus member on the committee — who asked not to be named so he could speak freely — was more blunt.
He described this week’s meeting as a front, where the committee will pretend to consider all the candidates, despite already having their minds made up to give the position to Gowdy. Nevertheless, the lawmaker said if the steering committee was going to put a thumb on the scale, Gowdy was the only acceptable choice.
Gowdy declined to comment, but his spokewoman, Amanda Gonzalez, released this statement: "Congressman Gowdy, who has served on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee since 2011, has enjoyed working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle conducting oversight consistent with branch integrity and looking for ways to reform the institutions of government. He will continue to work with his colleagues regardless of what position he holds."
Gowdy has previously worked with the committee’s ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. The two will be reprising the same roles they had on the Select Committee on Benghazi.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who is the committee’s second ranking Democrat, said Gowdy’s selection was a “done deal.”
“He’s being picked as chairman both to protect Trump. And frankly, to make sure that some of the Freedom Caucus folks are not the alternative. I mean it’s quite clear that Paul Ryan did not want Jim Jordan and didn’t want Mark Meadows. And Trey Gowdy is sort of an unassailable choice,” Connolly said. Meadows is the Freedom Caucus’ current chair and a member of Oversight.
"I like him, personally, and we’ve sparred over the years. When he goes into his South Carolina prosecutorial mode he can be very aggressive," Connolly said. "But I think at times, it doesn’t always serve him well. Because, I think, the image it projects is not always one of balance and fairness to an audience on television watching that."
The chair needs to "make sure that you are, and you are perceived, as a fair chairman. To make sure that all rights are protected — including minority rights.”
Connolly said “Trey has a lot of potential” to lead the committee in a positive way, which he said includes being willing to actively investigate the executive branch.
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