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The House of Representatives on Thursday voted to approve the creation of a committee chaired by Democratic Rep. James Clyburn to oversee the federal government's coronavirus response, as Republicans ripped the idea of a committee as politically-motivated and argued Democrats will use it as a forum to attack President Trump.
The formation of the committee was approved 212-182 after a nearly 90-minute vote.
The House took extraordinary steps to conduct the roll call vote in person: Members, grouped into nine clusters of between 40 and 50 people, were told to report to the House chamber at designated times and enter and exit through specific doors so not all members were in the chamber at once.
To limit exposure amid the coronavirus crisis, members were directed to stay in their offices until their turn to vote and were instructed to retreat to their offices after voting and not linger. Another vote -- on passing a nearly half-trillion-dollar coronavirus relief package -- was set for Thursday afternoon.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced that she would create the committee led by Clyburn, D-S.C., earlier this month. Clyburn led a similar panel, Pelosi said Thursday, for oversight of the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2006.
Pelosi, D-Calif., said the committee was designed to address the “here and now,” specifically concerning the allocation of the historic amount of federal funds directed to the economic recovery. She compared the panel to the committee chaired by then-Sen. Harry Truman in 1941 to investigate waste, fraud and abuse in defense spending in the early days of World War II.
“Again, this isn’t about assigning blame,” Pelosi said on the House floor Thursday. “It’s about taking responsibility.”
Pelosi added that the committee “will ensure the historic investment of taxpayer dollars are being used wisely and efficiently and nobody is ripping us off.”
“Where there’s big money, we know this, people will come up with a scam of some kind,” Pelosi warned. “Whip Clyburn’s leadership is essential to the work…and critical to working families.”
She added: “I say this with all the hope that I can muster that we do this in a very bipartisan way.”
But Republicans argued the committee itself was shaping up to be partisan.
"This is just one more attempt by the Democrats to go after the president,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan said ahead of the vote. “One more chance for them to attack the president in an election year and put the biggest supporter of the Democrats' nominee as the chairman of this select committee."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., questioned how bipartisan the panel would be, noting that the committee would be formed with seven Democratic members and only five Republicans.
“We’ve added a little politics to the game,” McCarthy said on the House floor Thursday. “You see, this committee will be the only committee weighted politically.”
McCarthy went on to compliment Clyburn, noting he should “be credited with getting Joe Biden the nomination,” after he endorsed the former vice president ahead of the South Carolina primary in February.
“We don’t question his political abilities, he’s the majority whip, he knows how to gather votes, he knows how to make the political argument,” McCarthy said. “This is the same individual who said the pandemic presented the perfect opportunity to restructure things to fit our own vision.”
He added: “The public does not want to see politics. Why would we waste our time bringing people back to create a political committee?”
The creation of the committee led by Clyburn comes as other lawmakers have proposed and called for additional oversight measures to review the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and nine other Democratic senators called for inspector general investigations from FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services, demanding answers over whether “political expediency” rather than the country’s urgent public health needs have driven the administration’s decisions.
Warren, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., also called for the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), the new entity established by the CARES Act passed last month, to investigate the “partisan and political nature of the White House’s actions.”
Meanwhile, earlier this month, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris announced legislation Friday that would create a bipartisan 9/11-style commission to probe the federal government's response to the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.
The commission, according to the three Democrats, will “examine U.S. government preparedness in advance of this pandemic, the federal government’s response to it, and provide recommendations to improve our ability to respond to and recover from future outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics.” The commission will also examine state and local governments’ preparedness and response.
The commission would hold public hearings and events to obtain information, and, as Schiff suggested last week, would “possess subpoena power” to compel cooperation from federal, state and local governments.
The commission, though, is not expected to be established until February 2021 “hopefully after the pandemic has been overcome and after the presidential election,” they said.
Meanwhile, Trump earlier this month removed Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine, who was tasked with monitoring the coronavirus economic relief plan. The president temporarily appointed the inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to monitor the implementation of the new law.
A Congressional Oversight Commission and other positions, though, have been established to supervise spending by the Department of the Treasury and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.