The House of Representatives voted 212 to 182 on Thursday to create a special panel to oversee the coronavirus pandemic and the federal government's response. But all 181 Republicans present and one conservative independent opposed the measure, with many dismissing the request for additional oversight as a scheme to hurt Donald Trump during an election year.
The new Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis will be chaired by Majority Whip James Clyburn, under the auspices of the Oversight Committee. It will have broad subpoena power and be tasked with overseeing taxpayer-funded COVID-19 relief programs, the pandemic's economic impact, any disparate impact on minorities, and the executive branch's preparedness, response, and decision-making.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) told her colleagues during the floor debate that the committee was absolutely needed.
"Look what's happened already," she said, reading out recent news headlines. "$55 million dollar contract to a bankrupt company (Panthera) in order to make N95 masks. Hedge fund managers claim bailouts as small businesses. Over 43,000 U.S. millionaires will get 'stimulus' awards of $1.6 million each."
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) agreed: "My constituents are puzzled why some of the money that was designed to go to small businesses ended up going to these mega-businesses like Shake Shack or Ruth's Chris Steak House. They want accountability. $2 trillion. I mean, is that too much to ask?" Shake Shack received but then returned a $10 million small business loan under the CARES Act. That roughly $2 trillion economic stabilization bill included billions for a Paycheck Protection Program aimed at shoring up small businesses and protecting their employees.
But Republicans slammed the creation of the bipartisan panel as unnecessary and political.
Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) called the vote a "partisan stunt" focused on investigating Donald Trump.
Rep. James Comer (R-KY) opposed it as "a wasteful, redundant committee to smear President Trump during an election year."
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) called it a "faux committee indeed" to "puts a vice grip on taxpayer dollars and prolongs attacks on" Trump.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) attacked it as "another political committee using taxpayer dollars to attack the person that 63MM Americans voted for & the Democrats tried to impeach just a few months ago."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy slammed the selection of Clyburn, who he said "has one of the best political minds," to lead the panel.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in her floor speech that Republicans were being hypocritical opposing this.
"We have all these committees to do oversight, and I hope they will, but they have other work to do as well. As the Republicans put forth select committees themselves — Benghazi, trying to destroy Planned Parenthood," she recalled. "This has an urgency for the American people. We need a select committee whose focus, whose purpose is to address the challenge that the coronavirus places on [us]."
Foxx, Jordan, McCarthy, Scott, and every other House Republican present voted in 2014 for the Benghazi panel, even though several committees had already thoroughly investigated the matter, and for the 2015 investigation into Planned Parenthood. McCarthy later admitted the Benghazi panel's real aim was to hurt Hillary Clinton's poll numbers, though that investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing on her part. The Planned Parenthood panel predictably recommended an end to federal funding for the health provider, but was ridiculed by Science magazine for its error-riddled report.
Four Americans died in the 2012 attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. More than 44,500 Americans have died from COVID-19 since Trump said "We have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It's going to be just fine."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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