By Sarah Westwood, Investigative Reporter
House Republicans are heavily favored to win the majority for the first time in four years. President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings and a range of other factors mean Republicans are more likely than not to wield committee gavels come January 2023.
Republican lawmakers have pledged to investigate the Biden administration aggressively. The party has rich material to mine, from the business dealings of the president’s son Hunter Biden to missteps leading up to the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan last year.
House Republican lawmakers who are now ranking members on their various committees are already signaling their targets should they assume control, as many are expected to do, of the panels on which they now sit.
House Democrats don’t impose term limits on their committee chairs the way House Republicans do. The GOP members selected to lead panels in the next Congress could only hold their powerful new positions for six years consecutively. That includes time spent in a ranking member’s role. So, realistically, a GOP committee chairmanship might only last two or four years.
Democrats, by contrast, rely much more heavily on seniority to determine who should hold gavels each Congress.
Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California, for example, spent nearly three decades in Congress before finally ascending to the head of the powerful House Financial Services Committee after the 2018 election.
Republicans are much more likely to install committee chairs who will be the most aggressive inquisitors of the Biden administration, most prominently Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top GOP member of the House Judiciary Committee, who arrived in Congress 16 years later than Waters but is already poised to take a key committee leadership position.
Here are the battlegrounds on which the investigative fights with the Biden administration are likely to be held.
House Judiciary Committee
The high-profile Judiciary Committee is likely to host some of the television-friendly inquiries into areas House Republicans have already vowed to investigate.
One top target may be Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, who became the face of a COVID-19 response reviled by most on the Right.
Jordan has said he would investigate Fauci if he assumes control of the House Judiciary Committee. The Ohio Republican has said he would focus on how and why Fauci downplayed the so-called lab leak theory, which posits that the pandemic began when a man-made strain of coronavirus escaped from a Chinese laboratory and began spreading among the community in Wuhan, China.
The lab leak theory gained significant public acceptance last year despite little new evidence emerging to support it; Fauci eventually expressed an openness to the possibility that it could explain the origins of the pandemic without confronting his past dismissal of the theory.
The Judiciary Committee could also be a top venue for the investigations Republicans have pledged to launch into what they call anti-conservative bias in Silicon Valley and the high-tech sector generally.
It was the then-GOP-controlled Judiciary panel that, in 2018, summoned the chief executive of Google before lawmakers to answer questions about discrimination against conservatives, among other things. The committee is likely to continue that line of inquiry into other Big Tech companies, given that Republicans are already considering document requests and depositions associated with the hot-button issue.
And while Hunter Biden’s dealings are likely to come under the microscope before multiple committees, the Judiciary Committee will be a key vehicle for the investigation.
Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a member of the committee, submitted material from a laptop belonging to the president’s son into the congressional record during a Judiciary subcommittee hearing in March.
House Intelligence Committee
Rep. Michael Turner of Ohio is slated to chair this mostly behind-the-scenes panel in a GOP majority House. Republicans are likely to maintain an interest in Afghanistan after the 2022 midterm elections. And a major area of interest could be what intelligence Biden received before making decisions that led to chaos at the Kabul airport.
At the time, Republicans questioned whether Biden had any intelligence pointing toward a swift Taliban takeover and whether he acted in spite of that; Biden administration officials never painted a clear picture of what intelligence they received last year.
Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings may come under scrutiny in this venue as well.
Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the House Republican Conference chairwoman and also a member of the Intelligence Committee, reportedly pressed Biden administration officials in April to provide evidence for the widely circulated claim that Russia had a hand in spreading material from Hunter Biden’s laptop prior to the 2020 election.
House Oversight Committee
Much of the heavy lifting in the House GOP investigative effort will come from the Oversight Committee, whose two previous Republican chairs have gone on to cable news stardom, in large part due to how much exposure they got probing Democrats.
Beyond Hunter Biden, whose business dealings and efforts to involve his father in them are virtually guaranteed to be a topic of interest, Fauci is likely to hear from House Oversight Republicans.
GOP Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the committee’s ranking member and likely next chairman, said last month that his committee is “not going to let up on” Fauci’s evasions about the origins of COVID-19.
Comer has also already begun his pursuit of Hunter Biden-related material. He first began pressing the Treasury Department in May to hand over any suspicious activity reports generated by business transactions involving members of the Biden family; the department flags transactions that could potentially violate the law.
The Oversight Committee, along with the Homeland Security Committee, could also lend resources to investigations into how the Biden administration has mishandled a historic surge in illegal migration at the southern border.
House Energy and Commerce Committee
The House Energy and Commerce Committee led the way on one of the highest-profile congressional investigations of the Barack Obama era, which involved federal support for a failed clean energy company called Solyndra.
With the Biden administration dedicating billions of dollars in its infrastructure bill toward clean energy projects and Democrats in Congress negotiating programs that could potentially steer billions more toward climate projects, Republicans on the Energy panel could investigate the details of where the money is going and whether the Biden administration is creating more climate boondoggles.
The current Republican ranking member on the committee is Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington.
House Foreign Affairs Committee
The Foreign Affairs Committee was a top venue for investigations into the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack and is likely to share some of the action involving Afghanistan.
Even the current Democratic leader of the committee, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), pressed the Biden administration on the Afghanistan withdrawal last summer.
Meeks said at the time that top officials at the Pentagon and State Department owed Congress “transparency” about how the troop departure went so disastrously.
The Foreign Affairs Committee could also look into where billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine have gone over the past several months. The United States has been funneling money for military support to the Ukrainians since Russia invaded the country earlier this year but has provided few specifics related to the destination of the money.
The current top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee is Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, who is widely expected to assume the chairman’s gavel early next year.
House Administration Committee
If Republicans take back Congress in November, they’re likely to turn the investigative tables on Democrats’ blockbuster Jan. 6 panel.
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), the ranking member on the House Administration Committee, has said he wants to look into the special panel created to probe the riots that occurred last year. Davis won’t be back in the 118th Congress, having lost a redistricting-induced member-on-member primary against fellow Illinois GOP Rep. Mary Miller.
But Davis has laid out a road map for Republicans on the House Jan. 6 panel, whose televised hearings have put former President Donald Trump and many of his supporters in a bad light. Davis has already asked the Jan. 6 committee to preserve its records, saying his panel would investigate whether the committee violated the rights of witnesses it pressured to turn over documents and provide testimony.
The Administration Committee’s Republicans have also signaled that they would dig into security decisions made by the sergeant-at-arms in the lead-up to the Jan. 6 riots.