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Oversight and Investigation in the New Congress

Control of the U.S. Senate and House will permit Republican committee chairs to choose the hearing topics, schedule markups, and run the legislative railroad.  The Democrats will not be able to call a hearing in either chamber and therefore will have no ability to sustain a policy narrative.  Democrats will be reduced to choosing the single witness they can call at Republican-chosen hearings.  The ability of Republicans to command and control the agenda will also carry the right to give a thorough and painful review to the first six years of President Barack Obama’s administration.  It is likely that the Republican-controlled oversight committees in the Senate, including the Judiciary and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees, will be joined by the Environment and Public Works Committee and others in targeting the Obama administration.

House efforts along these lines, already well established, will see continued heavy oversight from traditional powers such as the Energy and Commerce Committee (which has been engaged in the serious oversight of the Affordable Care Act—ACA, or “Obamacare”—since its passage) and the Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) Committee.  OGR will be under new leadership, as will the Agriculture, Armed Services, Budget, Intelligence, Natural Resources, and Ways and Means committees.  Clearly, change in the House—in oversight and authorizing committees—is quite sweeping.

The departure of the Democrats from Senate power will see many Obama officials forced to rely on agency lawyers for representation.  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and White House counsel should say goodbye to their families and friends and buckle down for two years of constant document requests and oversight hearings.

The business community will not mourn the retirement of Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), who took on such U.S. corporate icons as Apple, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Caterpillar and many others, and will finish his oversight authority with a final hearing targeting Goldman Sachs and other banks.  Overall, oversight and investigation of the business community will decline dramatically.  Excepted from this trend are those in the business or philanthropic community who are aligned with the president or receive government funds, such as the now-bankrupt Solyndra, some of whom may become a target of Republican oversight.

© 2019 McDermott Will & Emery

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About this Author

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Stephen M. Ryan is head of the Government Strategies Practice Group in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and is based in the Washington, D.C., office.  He provides lobbying, litigation and counseling services, often for the high-technology community, and companies in highly regulated industries.  He has broad experience in addressing the combined legal, political and press related challenges stemming from congressional oversight and investigation.  Steve has been recognized byWashington D.C. Super Lawyers as being among the top five percent in political law as well as by the ...

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