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Pelosi announces new select committee to oversee coronavirus response

WASHINGTON —House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the creation of a new select committee Thursday with subpoena powers to scrutinize the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, and its management of the new $2 trillion economic rescue law.

‘‘Where there’s money there’s also frequently mischief,’’ Pelosi, a California Democrat, said as she announced creation of the special bipartisan panel she said would be focused on rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse.

Pelosi’s announcement comes amid growing clashes between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration about oversight of the new rescue legislation and a $500 billion fund controlled by the Treasury Department. Trump has to appoint a new inspector general to oversee that fund, but has already signaled opposition to the scope of that person’s mandate.


Pelosi told reporters on a conference call that her new committee would be modeled after the World War II-era committee run by then-Senator Harry Truman, whose role in investigating the implementation of billions of dollars in defense contracts eventually led to his elevation to vice president.

She said that this new committee needed to serve as an everyday watchdog of the more than $2 trillion already allocated to fight the virus and the virtual lockdown it has placed on the economy.

The House Select Committee on the Coronavirus, as Pelosi called it, will be chaired by Representative James Clyburn, of South Carolina, who is the No. 3 Democratic leader as majority whip. No further details were provided about how many lawmakers would serve on the panel.

The new $2 trillion coronavirus spending law, enacted on Friday, included several oversight mechanisms, but some Democrats are already expressing concern that President Trump could try and minimize their scope.

The law established a new special inspector general to oversee the Treasury fund, a separate commission appointed by Congress also empowered to monitor that fund, and a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, comprised of existing inspectors general from multiple agencies, to oversee the entire federal response to the coronavirus.


Republicans voiced immediate skepticism about Pelosi’s move to stand up a new select committee.

‘‘This seems really redundant,’’ House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, told reporters on a call following Pelosi’s announcement.

McCarthy also expressed concerns about how the committee would be created since the House is on a long recess and no one knows when they are coming back given health concerns from the coronavirus. Several lawmakers have tested positive.

She said the new committee will have the full investigative authorities of any congressional oversight committee. ‘‘It’s no use having a committee unless you have subpoena power,’’ Pelosi said.

The select committee would supplement oversight mechanisms that Democrats pushed to include in the $2 trillion rescue package signed into law on Friday. Some experts are already questioning how effective those mechanisms can be.

Democrats have already called on Trump to quickly nominate a new inspector general tasked with overseeing how Treasury makes loans and loan guarantees as part of the $500 billion program. This process could take months, though, as the person must be nominated by the White House and confirmed by the Senate, which is not in session because of coronavirus fears.

Trump has already suggested he may try to block one of the inspector general’s most important tools: Their ability to alert Congress if the executive branch is denying requests for information.


‘‘There’s a bunch of oversight provisions [in last week’s $2 trillion law], and they are not as muscular as one might want,’’ said Adam Levitin, a professor at Georgetown Law who played a key oversight role during the financial crisis bailout programs of 2008, and also consulted with Democrats on language in the new bill.

As Congress and the Trump administration negotiated the vast rescue bill, one comment from Trump unnerved Democrats perhaps more than any other, when he told reporters: ‘‘I’ll be the oversight.’’

‘‘Democrats were never going to let President Trump be the oversight,’’ said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat. ‘‘It’s why we put in multiple layers of robust oversight, accountability, and transparency, and we’re going to do everything we can to see that they are enforced.’’