Since taking over the House Oversight Committee in 2015, Jason Chaffetz has threatened to arrest DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, impeded full marijuana legalization, and promised to block physician-assisted suicide. Advocates for self rule were thrilled to learn yesterday that the five-term Utah congressman won’t be seeking election in 2018. But there’s still no guarantee that his replacement will be better liked by Washingtonians.
In 2015, Chaffetz became the Oversight chairman after beating fellow Republicans Jim Jordan, Michael Turner, and John Mica for the job. Turner has other assignments and Mica lost his re-election race in Florida last year. Only Jordan, who was the Freedom Caucus’ first chairman, still serves on the committee. He now leads the subcommittee in charge of health care and administrative rules. If the GOP holds the House next year, or if Chaffetz returns to Utah before finishing out his term, Jordan looks like the natural choice to take over.
The Oversight Committee is responsible for reviewing the entire federal government. But because the Constitution defines DC as the “federal city” it also oversees the District’s local government. It makes whoever leads the panel an important figure in city affairs. When the House has been under Democratic control, the committee’s tended to lay off. When Republicans hold the majority, however, the District usually deals with more interference. And like Chaffetz, Jordan has attempted to undercut DC’s autonomy.
In 2013, Jordan introduced legislation that would’ve rescinded nearly all of the District’s gun-control laws two days before the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton called Jordan’s timing an act of “insensitive disrespect.”
Jordan’s spokesperson said at the time that, even though Jordan and Norton sometimes agree, “It does not change the fact that Congress has the Constitutional authority to govern the District and ‘exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever.’” Jordan and Marco Rubio reintroduced a similar bill in 2015.
After Chaffetz leaves, Jordan will be third in seniority on Oversight, after John Duncan and former Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa. Duncan isn’t expected to run for the chairman’s job and Issa is facing a tough reelection battle in his moderate California district. That leaves Jordan, who represents a chunk of central and northern Ohio, as the most likely heir. When asked about a possible run for chairman, Jordan’s spokesperson only directed Washingtonian to tweets in which Jordan said he looks forward to working with Chaffetz for the rest of the term. A source close to Jordan said that he may pursue the job again.
Trey Gowdy is another plausible pick to head the committee, but he’s said that he wants to become a federal judge. Barring a judgeship, rising through the ranks of the Judiciary Committee, where he serves as a subcommittee chair, seems to be a more natural fit.
Jordan should also be helped by the fact that almost half of the Republicans on Oversight are members of the Freedom Caucus, the 32-member clutch of representatives committed to conservative orthodoxy. Mark Meadows, the Freedom Caucus’ current leader and a fellow Oversight member, also owes Jordan a favor. Back in 2015, Chaffetz stripped Meadows of his subcommittee chairmanship for voting against Republican leadership. After Jordan led a “guerrilla campaign” on Meadows’ behalf, Chaffetz was forced to reinstate him. Politico reported that “Jordan just showed he can outfox top Republicans.”
Jordan irritated House leadership more recently by saying that Paul Ryan’s health care bill did not repeal Obamacare. If he decides to run for committee chair, the Ryan-led Republican Steering Committee will have to decide whether it’s worth spending political capital to block him.
President Trump isn’t a fan either. After the Freedom Caucus helped tank health care reform in March, Trump targeted Jordan and colleagues on Twitter:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 30, 2017
Chaffetz, who is reportedly considering running for governor of Utah in 2020, told a Salt Lake City radio station Thursday that he might not finish out his current term. Americans for Self-Rule, a political action committee that planned to back a Chaffetz challenger, has vowed to fight the next “Congressional tyrant.” The group might get that fight sooner than expected.