On Thursday night, House Republicans selected the ranking members of the congressional committees poised to unleash an investigative tsunami against the Trump presidency. With the dust settled, Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Doug Collins of Georgia will take center stage as the top Republicans on the House oversight and judiciary committees, respectively. In these spots, Jordan and Collins will play crucial roles in the fight to block Democratic efforts to investigate topics like President Donald Trump's tax returns — and perhaps even argue for his impeachment.
With Democrats poised to aim a "subpoena cannon" at the Trump administration, these positions are the equivalent of White House public defenders.
With Democrats poised to aim a "subpoena cannon" at the Trump administration, these positions are the congressional equivalent of White House bodyguards. Trump is obsessed with the reality show dynamic of government (see Brett Kavanaugh's performance at his confirmation hearing), so you can be sure that Trump wants Jordan and Collins to assume an aggressive and visible position as soon as possible. Effectively, he wants them to pass the Fox News test.
Jordan, who had earlier withdrawn his bid to be the ranking member on the judiciary committee, comes with plenty of baggage of his own. Several wrestlers he used to coach at Ohio State told NBC News that he did nothing to protect them from an abusive team doctor. Trump stood by Jordan, however, and the Ohio congressman seems to remain a presidential favorite.
This isn't surprising. For the better part of this decade, Jordan has been a consistent fixture on Trump-favored platforms like Fox News because of his role leading the House Freedom Caucus and his membership on the House oversight and judiciary committees. Ironically, it was his visibility on the oversight committee during the Obama years that really put Jordan on the map. Back then, Jordan was an ardent defender of congressional oversight who frequently attacked the Obama administration for its lack of cooperation with the panel’s investigations.
Besides defending the president, both Jordan and Collins will be tasked with helping shape the public’s perception of congressional investigations more generally. They will be the faces of the GOP during high-stakes oversight hearing showdowns. If history has taught us anything, it’s that you don't need the power of the gavel to be effective.
Before he became chairman of the oversight committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., was the panel’s ranking member. Issa became a political force when he was in the minority, before he became chairman. At the time, I served as Issa’s spokesperson and saw firsthand how his success earned him the designation of “Obama’s annoyer-in-chief.” Issa’s ferocity was a large factor in the demotion of former House oversight committee chairman Ed Towns of New York, who was effectively benched by Democrats in favor of Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland when Democrats lost the House.
Democrats astutely recognized that Cummings would be a much stronger foil to Issa than either Towns or the more senior Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who Towns actually endorsed for the top spot. And they were right. Cummings proved to be incredibly effective at derailing Issa, which led to several very embarrassing moments for the Republican chairman.
If Trump embraces a strategy to completely resist Democratic oversight — as reports this week suggest he will — Jordan and Collins will have to find a way to spin this strategy. In the case of Jordan, this certainly puts him at odds with his own extensive record supporting aggressive oversight of the executive branch.
House Republicans are now facing life mired in the congressional minority, which will likely force them to take on a much more combative and confrontational identity. The selection of Jordan and Collins signals that the GOP is indeed ready to become even more Trump-like.
It may be cynical, but it’s also true: Success in the minority isn’t measured by passing legislation. It’s measured by how successful you are at stopping the other side from advancing their agenda. Clearly, House Republicans believe that in Jordan and Collins, they have the right men for the job.