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Pelosi forming House committee to investigate the coronavirus outbreak

The panel will investigate the pandemic and ensure that the funding Congress has already approved, and may approve in the future, is spent wisely.
Image: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi during an interview at the Capitol on April 1, 2020.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi during an interview at the Capitol on April 1, 2020.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced Thursday that a bipartisan House committee will investigate the federal response to coronavirus pandemic and ensure that congressional funding is spent wisely.

“The committee will be empowered to examine all aspects of the federal response to the coronavirus, and to assure that the taxpayer dollars are being wisely and efficiently spent to save lives, deliver relief and benefit our economy,” Pelosi said during a conference call with reporters.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., will chair the newly formed House committee, Pelosi said. She did not detail how many Republicans and Democrats would serve on the committee.

"The importance of this committee’s work cannot be overstated," Clyburn said in a statement about his appointment. "Just as the Truman Commission in the 1940s investigated waste, corruption, and fraud during World War II at the Defense Department, this select committee is tasked with oversight of how the federal government spends the taxpayer-funded $2 trillion allocated by Congress to address the COVID-19 crisis."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., voiced opposition to the select committee Thursday on a separate press call.

He said that Congress already wrote oversight provisions into the latest funding package. The GOP leader also said that he doesn’t support Clyburn serving as the chairman.

McCarthy said Clyburn will seek to use the committee as an opportunity to restructure government and the economy.

The committee will have subpoena power, said Pelosi. But she said the committee should not be viewed as an investigation of the Trump administration, adding she hopes Republicans will cooperate.

The panel will oversee the funding Congress has already approved in three separate packages, including the $2 trillion stimulus bill. The committee would also provide oversight of future funding.

Pelosi said she spoke to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about the next funding package that Congress could consider when lawmakers return to Washington.

Top House Democrats, including Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., have proposed the formation of a 9/11-style commission to investigate the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.

But Pelosi said while a commission, which would be a retrospective review, is necessary, she wants the select committee to assess the response in real time as the crisis continues to unfold. A commission could be discussed in the future, she said.

Traditionally, select committees focus on one issue. Democrats, for example, formed committees on climate change and the modernization of Congress. When Republicans last controlled Congress, they formed a select committee to investigate the 2012 Benghazi attacks.

In a sign of potential bipartisan cooperation, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who was in the Capitol on Thursday to preside over a Senate pro forma session, said that Congress needs to look into what went wrong with the spread of the coronavirus and how to prepare for a future pandemic.

“Probably the most important thing we need to do is learn the lessons from this pandemic because we, we kind of got sucker-punched,” he said.