The race for the top Democratic seat on the powerful House Oversight and Reform Committee got more crowded on Friday when Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) entered the contest to replace the outgoing chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).
Maloney lost her primary race on Tuesday to Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), ending a 30-year career on Capitol Hill and opening up the top panel seat in the next Congress.
Raskin’s decision to seek the spot pits him against two other, more veteran Oversight Democrats — Reps. Stephen Lynch (Mass.) and Gerry Connolly (Va.), who launched their candidacies on Wednesday.
Democrats have traditionally favored seniority when choosing top committee spots, which would seem to place Raskin at a disadvantage in the race.
Still, the preference given to committee veterans has eroded gradually in recent years. And the three-term Raskin has built a sturdy national profile in his short time on Capitol Hill, leading the House’s second impeachment of former President Trump after last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol, and now playing a high-profile role as a member of the select committee investigating the riot.
A former professor of constitutional law, Raskin is making the case that his legal background makes him the best candidate to lead the Democrats on the Oversight panel.
“We are still in the fight of our lives to defend American constitutional democracy and—by extension—political freedom and human rights all over the world,” Raskin wrote Friday to his fellow Democrats in a letter obtained by The Hill.
Maloney’s imminent departure will mark the second time in three years that the top Democratic seat has opened up on the Oversight panel: she had won the gavel in 2019 following the death of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) amid Trump’s first impeachment.
The committee is among the most powerful — and therefore among the most sought after — panels in Congress, with subpoena power and a broad, open-ended mandate to investigate federal activities across virtually every facet of the government.
Democrats are expected to lose their House majority in November’s midterms, shifting control of the committee gavels over to the Republicans. Still, the ranking members play a prominent role in the national debate, particularly on the Oversight panel, where investigations into presidential activities tend to take center stage.
Indeed, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the ranking member who’s expected to take the gavel if the House flips, is already forecasting a laundry list of investigations into President Biden spanning a host of hot-button issues. The list includes the administration’s response to the coronavirus, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the migrant surge at the Southern border. Most recently, Comer warned Anthony Fauci, the outgoing head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to expect an invitation from the committee next year to discuss COVID’s origins.
In that environment, Democrats will be seeking a figure who can effectively push back on those attacks and defend their White House ally — on the fly — in open hearings before the American public.
The Democratic candidates so far vying for the spot bring different expertise to the table. Lynch, the most senior of the three, has served on the Oversight panel for more than 20 years and currently chairs the subcommittee on national security. He’s emphasizing his work investigating Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and foreign meddling in U.S. elections.
Connolly, whose Northern Virginia district is home to a large crop of federal employees, is highlighting his experience fighting for those workers and the institutions they represent. He chairs the Oversight Committee’s subpanel on government operations.
Raskin, the constitutional scholar, leads the subcommittee on civil rights and civil liberties. In Friday’s letter, he called attention to that panel’s ongoing probe into domestic terrorism and white supremacy, calling it the “proudest” work he’s done in Congress.
“Long before January 6, 2021, we examined and reported on the rise of militia extremism, the infiltration of local police departments by white supremacists, and the rampant growth of domestic violent extremism during the Trump Administration,” he wrote.
Raskin is also vowing to adopt a new, more modern approach to the committee’s public messaging.
“We must use every new technique of investigative research, communication, and social media to galvanize public opinion in our campaign to defend strong democracy and effective government in America,” he said.
It’s unclear if more Oversight Democrats will enter the race. But at least one other member of the panel seems to be raising the prospect. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) issued a statement Friday criticizing those Democrats who are announcing their bids to replace Maloney ahead of the midterm elections, warning that the internal fight could distract from the more urgent goal of winning as many seats as possible in November.
“Is it concerning that there has never been a South Asian Chair or Ranking Member of a full committee in the history of the U.S. Congress?” he said. “Yes. But again, our electoral focus right now should be on winning in November, not on caucus elections.”
Two other senior Democrats on the panel will not be in the race. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) is retiring. And Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is vying to become the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a seat that will open up with next year’s retirement of Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).
Updated: 3:57 p.m.