The Republican House Leadership in the 118th Congress—What Can America’s Marginalized Communities Expect From Them?
By Rosalyn Coates, Chair, Racial Equity, Task Force
What does the incoming Republican House leadership portend for protecting and advancing the interests of America’s marginalized people and communities when it gavels in the first session of the 118th Congress on January 3, 2023? An American who identifies as a liberal or progressive might first respond to this question with a resounding: “Nothing good!” That reaction might be understandable given the demographics of the districts represented by the three Republicans who are discussed in this article. On December 7, 2022, Rep. James Comer (R-KY) was selected to serve as chair of the House Oversight Committee and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) was selected to serve as chair of the House Financial Services Committee. On December 8, 2022, Kevin McCarthy announced that Rep. James Jordan (R-OH) will chair the House Judiciary Committee. All three of these Members represent districts with majority White populations (Comer – 83%, McHenry – 75%, and Jordan – 87%). The response is also justified given their past and recent pronouncements.
The House Oversight Committee is the primary investigative committee in the House and has the authority to delve into the operations and expenditures of the federal government and its agencies to ensure that they are indeed serving the interests and needs of the American public. Rather than ensuring that the Department of Education fulfills its mission to ensure equal educational opportunities to all Americans or that the Department of Veterans Affairs fulfills it mission to serve and honor the men and women who are America’s Veterans, Rep. Comer has vowed to undertake, as a first priority, investigations of President Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. Hunter Biden is not a Federal employee, nor is there any indication that President Biden is involved or influenced in any way by his son’s business dealings. Rep. Comer issued the following statement regarding his upcoming chairmanship:
“It is an honor to serve the American people as the next chairman of the House Oversight Committee. The American people have made it clear they want accountability in Washington and Oversight Committee Republicans are ready to deliver. . . . The destructive path paved by the Biden Administration ends when Republicans have the gavel in January. Republicans will return the Oversight Committee to its primary duty to root out waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in the federal government and hold the Biden Administration accountable. We will continue our investigations into the national security threat posed by the Biden family’s influence peddling and shady business schemes, President Biden’s border crisis, COVID origins and U.S. taxpayer dollars used to fund dangerous research in Wuhan, the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal, President Biden’s energy crisis, waste and mismanagement of pandemic relief funds, and more. We will use all tools at our disposal to identify problems and propose solutions that make the federal government more efficient, effective, transparent, and accountable to the American people.”
Other than a nebulous reference to “root out waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement in the federal government,” Rep. Comer makes no commitment to truly ensuring that government agencies are responsive and accountable to the American people.
The House Financial Services Committee oversees all the components of America’s housing and financial sectors which includes banking, insurance, real estate, securities as well as public and assisted housing. Rep. McHenry also intends to focus on investigating the Biden administration. Upon being named to chair the committee, Rep. McHenry stated: “As Chairman, I will pursue an innovation and opportunity agenda. We will focus our efforts on conducting appropriate and aggressive oversight of the Biden administration, as well as pursuing bipartisan legislation to put Americans back in control of their personal financial data, enhance capital formation opportunities, and develop a comprehensive regulatory framework for the digital asset ecosystem. I’m excited to get to work to rebuild the greatest economy of my lifetime, which we experienced pre-pandemic under Republican leadership.”
It is worth noting that McHenry announced last month that he along with other Republican House members intend to launch an investigation into the Treasury Department and its Advisory Committee on Racial Equity. Although the role of the 25-person committee is to provide insight and guidance to Treasury leaders so they can address racial disparities and advance racial equality, McHenry and other Republicans accuse the Biden administration of politicizing the department by forming the advisory committee.
The House Judiciary Committee oversees issues relating to the legal system, including the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. The committee has jurisdiction over all proposed constitutional amendments and handles issues such as regulatory reform, anti-trust laws, crime and terrorism and immigration reform.
Less than one week before polls closed for the midterm elections, Jordan sent letters to the heads of the FBI and Justice Department requesting documents in preparation for in-depth investigations of both agencies which the congressman accuses of operating under a political bias. He has expressed a particular interest in the search of classified documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club and Hunter Biden’s business practices.
If Republicans can keep the MAGA constituency and the media focused on their petty politics of “owning the Libs” and combatting “wokeness,” they won’t have to be accountable for their lack of vision, or commitment to increasing educational opportunities, access to quality health care and fair housing for marginalized Americans. They will be given a pass for not having a plan to combat inflation, the climate crises or immigration reform.
All three of these Members oppose statehood for the District of Columbia, protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and supported keeping the deadline for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. None support reproductive health freedoms for women or have articulated support for other social justice issues.
Fortunately, Democrats have signaled that they are prepared to counter Republican efforts to hold numerous investigations that do nothing to address any of the issues that of concern to most Americans. For example, several top Democratic strategists have reactivated the Congressional Integrity Project which will work to “expose the truth behind these [proposed] investigations, spotlighting these officials’ hypocrisy, and exposing the truth about their records and extreme agenda that does nothing for the American people,” according to its website.
The next two years are poised to be a period of uncertainty with few meaningful accomplishments. Yet, Democrats must hold firm and continue to seek effective legislative solutions to improve lives for every day Americans. The incoming Republican leadership will not bring the change we want to see in the world.
—Rosalyn Coates, Chair, Racial Equity Task Force