House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks with reporters in Washington after the midterm elections. (Susan Walsh/AP)
Opinion writer

Democrats won’t actually take control of the House until January, but they’re ready to hit the ground running:

Fresh off a resounding midterm elections victory, House Democrats on Sunday began detailing plans to wield their newfound oversight power in the next Congress, setting their sights on acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker while rebuffing calls from some liberals to pursue impeachment proceedings against President Trump.

As the article above explains, multiple Democrats who will be chairing committees in the new Congress made clear that they already have a clear idea of the matters they’ll be investigating and they’re ready to use their subpoena powers if the administration refuses to cooperate. You can be sure that when all this begins, Republicans will portray it as madness, a chaotic eruption of politically motivated probes with no legitimate purpose. The truth, however, is that Democrats seem to know exactly what they’re doing.

That’s part of the message they’re trying to get out. Here’s what Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), who will chair the House Oversight Committee, said on ABC News’s “This Week”:

I’m not going to be handing out subpoenas like somebody’s handing out candy on Halloween. I take this as a lawyer and as an officer of the court, I take subpoenas very seriously. And I plan to, if I have to use them, they will be used in a very — in a methodical way and it must be in the public interest.

And here’s what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on CBS’s “Face the Nation”:

Well, we are responsible. We are not scattershot. We are not doing any investigation for a political purpose but to seek the truth. So, I think a word that you could describe about how Democrats will go forward in this regard is we will be very strategic.

You can dismiss their protestations that none of it has a political purpose as the kind of thing politicians have to say but that fools no one; of course it has a political purpose. But when they describe their investigation plan as a strategic one, you can take them at their word. Pelosi hasn’t stayed in charge of House Democrats for the past 16 years because she doesn’t know how to act strategically.

Keep in mind also that Pelosi has been in this position before. She became House minority leader after the 2002 elections and led Democrats through taking over the House in 2006 and then doing exactly what they want to do now: opposing an unpopular Republican president until a Democratic one could be elected two years later. One of her greatest strengths has been her ability to persuade everyone in her caucus to move in the same direction and stick to the plan she has constructed for them (something that her counterparts, including John Boehner and Paul D. Ryan, failed at repeatedly).

We don’t know exactly what that plan is, but the biggest challenge will be finding room on the calendar to conduct all the probes Democrats have lined up. There’s the strong documentary evidence that the president and his family undertook a years-long conspiracy to commit tax fraud on a massive scale, and the administration’s attempt to rig the census and its repeated lies about it, and the possibility that the president intervened in the decision on where to locate the new FBI headquarters to avoid competition for his hotel, to name just a few of the dozens of matters that cry out for investigation. There are things we can’t yet anticipate, like whatever will be revealed once we’re finally able to see President Trump’s tax returns. (If you think they won’t contain evidence of a pile of misdeeds, I’ve got a degree from Trump University to sell you.) And, oh yeah, that Russia thing.

And, of course, there are a raft of policy decisions ranging from the questionable to the horrific that administration officials need to answer questions about, whether it’s the sabotaging of the Affordable Care Act or the separation of children from their parents at the border.

When Republicans inevitably begin whining that Democrats are being too aggressive in all this oversight, remember how they be-clowned themselves through the Obama years, trying to gin up one phony scandal after another, including mounting seven, yes, seven separate investigations of Benghazi. We can and should have vigorous debates about what is being uncovered, how to understand it and what should be done about it. But the last thing we should do is waste our time arguing about whether there are too many investigations.

So, yes, it’s all political — just like everything else Congress does. But that doesn’t make it any less legitimate, especially given how Republicans have utterly abandoned their oversight responsibilities for the past two years.

If the Trump administration is a bastion of integrity and public-spiritedness, that’s what the investigations will reveal. And if the president himself has displayed nothing but the highest ethical standards and respect for law throughout his career, that’s what we’ll learn. The sense of dread spreading over the White House and the Republican Party right now isn’t because they think House Democrats will waste everyone’s time with these investigations; it’s because they know there’s so much misbehavior to be uncovered. The public deserves to see and understand all of it, and if that winds up hurting Republicans, they have only themselves to blame.

Read more:

E.J. Dionne Jr.: What House Democrats need to do

The Post’s View: This is what the Democrats’ agenda in the House should look like

Dana Milbank: Can Democrats keep it together?

Joe Scarborough: Trump lost. And it wasn’t even close.

Greg Sargent: Can the Democratic majority that won the House endure through 2020?