Meet the Would-Be House Committee Leaders Who Could Torment Trump


If Democrats win control of the House, they will gain control of powerful committees that could put a check on Mr. Trump’s agenda. Expect subpoenas, must-see hearings and lots of investigations.

WASHINGTON — In the House, the majority rules. Just ask Democrats, who have introduced bills destined for nowhere, watched oversight requests pile up and seen Republicans overrule most of their policy efforts.

But if the Democrats take the House on Nov. 6, they will assume control of two of the most powerful tools in Washington: gavels and subpoenas.

The committee chairmen and women in waiting are mostly over 65 and considerably more diverse than the Republicans they would replace. They could become household names.

With chairmanships would come the power to compel the Trump administration to produce evidence, to call witnesses to the stand and to show voters — ahead of 2020 — how Democrats would run the government if given the chance.

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Judiciary

Lifelong New Yorkers, Mr. Nadler and President Trump have been at each other’s throats since the 1990s, when Mr. Trump was a real estate developer and the Manhattan representative stood in the way of one of his West Side developments. Mr. Nadler’s objections earned him a Trumpian jab — “one of the most egregious hacks in contemporary politics” — but as the chairman of one of the most powerful committees in Congress, Mr. Nadler could bring the president serious pain and potentially oversee his impeachment.

Mr. Nadler, 71, has pledged to start investigations into potential violations of anti-corruption clauses in the Constitution, Mr. Trump’s apparent attempts to exert undue control over the F.B.I. and Justice Department, and accusations of sexual misconduct and perjury against Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Mr. Nadler has said he would tread more carefully around the ongoing investigation of Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia. In the short term, that means protecting the special counsel overseeing the inquiry, Robert S. Mueller III. But when Mr. Mueller’s work is complete, Mr. Nadler would be a key Democrat deciding whether to open an impeachment inquiry.

The committee also has jurisdiction over some of the Democrats’ highest policy priorities, including writing laws on guns, immigration policy and voting rights.

CreditEmma Howells/The New York Times

Oversight and Government Reform

With his hands on the levers of the House’s marquee investigative body, Mr. Cummings would face one of the Democrats’ most perilous balancing acts: How to scrutinize the heap of Trump administration scandals left untouched by Republicans without appearing to overreach.

The son of sharecroppers, Mr. Cummings, 67, thinks he can pull it off. He is a blunt and fiery liberal beloved by his caucus who prizes strong working relationships with Republicans.

“This is not about trying to get any retribution. It is about trying to bring us back to a sense of integrity,” he said.

Mr. Cummings has laid out two discreet lanes of inquiry: potential fraud and abuse by the White House and federal agencies; and broader issues that cut at what he refers to as “the soul of our democracy,” such as voter suppression. With the second largest staff in the House, the committee could quickly initiate inquiries into issues like the hobbling of the Environmental Protection Agency, the White House’s revocation of security clearances to voting rights, the 2020 census and implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

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Financial Services

Perhaps no member of the House — other than Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader — has been a bigger target for Mr. Trump than Ms. Waters, the 80-year old firebrand from Los Angeles whom he routinely insults as stupid. Her incendiary language — including calls for citizens to confront Trump administration officials in restaurants and other public places — has made her a darling of the liberal left.

If Democrats take control, Ms. Waters can strike back. She has watched, unhappily, as Republicans have watered down the Dodd-Frank Act, the Obama-era legislation aimed at reining in risky banking practices and protecting consumers. At the helm of the Financial Services Committee, Ms. Waters would almost certainly move to undo the Republicans’ changes and put teeth back into the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, though such efforts would have trouble passing a Republican Senate.

“Financial services issues are critical for all Americans and for our economy,” she said in an emailed statement, “and I am focused on making sure that our financial system is fair.”

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Appropriations

Women have been a driving force behind the Democrats’ push to retake the House. If they are successful, Ms. Lowey would be the first chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, the powerful panel that controls discretionary spending.

Look for Ms. Lowey, 81, to use the power of the purse to advance spending legislation that reflects the Democrats’ policy goals, including expanding access to health care, lowering prescription drug prices, and increasing funding for child care and early education programs.

She led a successful push earlier this year to fund gun violence prevention studies at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the agency had avoided such research for 20 years, fearing political repercussions. She said she intended to make certain such studies get underway. Separately, she will press for expanded funding for birth control and work to block Republican efforts to reduce spending on family planning or eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.

“In my work as a woman appropriator,” Ms. Lowey said, “I want to make sure that we’re protecting women’s health, women’s rights.”

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Armed Services

Like other would-be chairman, Mr. Smith, a hawkish former prosecutor, wants badly to step up the committee’s oversight role. He said last month at a defense conference that he would scrutinize overseas military operations, calling out the conflict in Yemen as antithetical to American values. The committee would also look to curtail the president’s efforts to expand the nuclear arsenal, Mr. Smith said, and to protect lesbian, gay and transgender people serving in the armed forces.

At 53, he is one of the younger potential chairmen, though he has served in the House for more than 20 years.

CreditTom Brenner/The New York Times

Education and the Workforce

A soft-spoken but forceful presence on Capitol Hill, Mr. Scott, 71, is the first African-American elected to Congress from Virginia since Reconstruction and a Harvard-educated former civil rights lawyer. He has been a sharp critic of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary.

High on Mr. Scott’s list is addressing inequities in education. He has repeatedly called on the department to work harder to close the achievement gap between white students and minorities — and has accused Ms. DeVos of permitting states to flout a law that requires schools to make progress toward that goal.

It will also be up to Mr. Scott to try to make good on the Democrats’ promise to make college education affordable. He and his fellow Democrats have already introduced legislation, the Aim Higher Act, to expand access to federal student loans, provide states with grants that would help students graduate from community college debt-free, and crack down on predatory for-profit colleges.

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Energy and Commerce

With jurisdiction over health care, energy, the environment and interstate business, the Energy and Commerce Committee looks over some of the most important planks of any party’s agenda. For the Democrats and Mr. Pallone, 66, stabilizing the Affordable Care Act, lowering prescription drug costs and restoring environmental rules undone by Mr. Trump would top the list.

If Republicans still control the Senate, major Democratic priorities, like legislation addressing climate change, are probably headed nowhere. But Mr. Pallone, a member of the Progressive Caucus, could certainly raise the profile of his party’s solutions and could use the committee for hearings into malfeasance in the private sector.

Mr. Pallone may try to work with Republicans to craft new regulations on how social media companies collect and use user data. He would also use the committee to apply pressure on the Federal Communications Commission and its decision to eliminate net neutrality rules.

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Foreign Affairs

The soft-spoken Mr. Engel, 71, hopes to be a counterbalance to Mr. Trump’s unconventional foreign policy, and he could get an opportunity sooner than anticipated. After the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Trump administration is under intense pressure to punish one of the United States’ closest Arab allies, and the president has said he would rather Congress take the lead. That could give a starring role to Mr. Engel, a lifelong resident of the Bronx whose unflagging support for Israel has occasionally put him at odds with his party.

Mr. Engel could also revive legislation he wrote to hold Russian actors responsible for interfering in the 2016 election and a resolution of inquiry seeking records from Mr. Trump’s summit meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia earlier this year in Helsinki, Finland. And Democrats are eager to question the State Department on the potential targeting of career employees based on their politics.

CreditErin Schaff for The New York Times

Intelligence

The committee’s divisive investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election made its Democratic members some of the best-known names in Washington — none more so than Mr. Schiff. But the meticulous former federal prosecutor from greater Los Angeles sees its work on the issue as far from done.

When Republicans concluded the Russia investigation in March having found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Mr. Schiff, 58, and committee Democrats put together a 98-page document detailing outstanding lines of inquiry. With subpoena power, he could chip away at those leads, compelling new testimony from witnesses that Republicans left unexplored.

“One of the issues that is of great concern to me is: Were the Russians laundering money through the Trump Organization,” Mr. Schiff said in a recent interview. “That to me would be far more powerful kompromat than any video.”

Mr. Schiff has said he will make restoring “comity” on the committee a priority after two years of intense partisan infighting.

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Transportation and Infrastructure

Considered one of the last opportunities for bipartisanship action, infrastructure could be one of the first action items on the Democrats’ to-do list, and the president may find an unlikely ally in Mr. DeFazio. The 71-year-old chairman-in-waiting has signaled his willingness to work with Mr. Trump, and the president himself has publicly mused that there’s “a chance” House Democrats and he will “get along and get along well.”

Democrats’ proposed infrastructure plan is a sprawling $1 trillion package that would rebuild roads, bridges, water pipes and rural areas’ broadband networks. Mr. DeFazio has proposed generating more revenue by raising the gas tax and indexing it to inflation.

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Ways and Means

The powerful Ways and Means Committee writes tax law, signs off on trade deals, and oversees Social Security and Medicare. Mr. Neal, an institutionally minded western Massachusetts Democrat, wants to make serious policy pushes in almost all of those areas.

First Mr. Neal, 69, would lead the committee’s consideration of the revised North American Free Trade Agreement. Mr. Neal voted against the original Nafta agreement, and his opposition to the deal could hobble efforts to sign it into law quickly. Mr. Neal was a vocal opponent of Republicans’ latest tax cuts and would convene hearings on the law’s effects. He and committee Democrats also would play a key role in the party’s attempts to stabilize the Affordable Care Act, address high prescription drug costs, negotiate a potential infrastructure investment bill with Mr. Trump and pass legislation requiring all but the smallest employers to provide 401(k) retirement plans.

Mr. Neal also would have at his disposal an obscure provision in the federal tax code that allows the leaders of Congress’s tax-writing committees to request and investigate the tax returns of any American, including the president.

Nicholas Fandos is a reporter in the Washington bureau covering Congress.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg is a congressional correspondent. In 21 years at The Times, she has been a science correspondent, national correspondent, political features reporter and White House correspondent. @SherylNYT



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