Congress is suffering from record-low public approval ratings and has seen its power diminished over the last several decades as presidents have exerted more executive power, especially on matters of national security.
Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor known for delivering stem-winders from a committee dais of the House floor, reminded a friendly audience on Tuesday that “The legislative branch was designed to be and at one point was the most powerful of the three branches. It is without question the weakest of the three branches now. Part of that is because we’ve allowed that to happen.”
When Republicans try investigating a Democratic administration, or vice versa, “Everything is politicized,” he said. “We send a subpoena to [former Attorney General] Eric Holder, it was a political subpoena. We send a subpoena to Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton, it’s a political subpoena. We hold a vote to hold [former IRS official] Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress or [IRS Commissioner] John Koskinen, that’s a political exercise. When you do it in respect to your own team, maybe then the analysis switches to a constitutional analysis and not a political analysis. The House has a responsibility to provide oversight no matter who’s in the White House.”
Gowdy offered no specific ideas on what exactly should be investigated by lawmakers.
Cotton agreed with Gowdy that “This is a moment where we could claw back some of that constitutional authority for our legislature…Donald Trump said that the supported restoring some of those constitutional principles, as well. Maybe Democrats will simply be scared and be willing to take some of their authority back in the Congress.”
Cotton and Gowdy spoke Tuesday morning as part of a two-day event hosted by the Arkansas senator for some of his most generous fundraisers and supporters. The morning session was held at Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center just blocks from the U.S. Capitol. The Washington Post and other news organizations were invited to attend on the condition that the event was on the record, but the guest list was not.
Gowdy chaired the select House committee that investigated the 2012 Benghazi attack that left four Americans dead and currently leads a Judiciary Committee subcommittee on border security. Cotton chairs an Armed Services subcommittee overseeing the military’s air and sea power that held a spending oversight hearing last week.
“Those are the kinds of enduring issues no matter who is president that the Congress needs to be focused on to make sure that taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely and that taxpayers are getting value for their dollar,” Cotton said. “Of course there’s going to be robust and serious oversight with Donald Trump in the White House.”
In order to bolster congressional power, Cotton said he hopes Trump agrees to sign legislation that would require up-or-down votes on any new federal regulation that affects more than $100 million in economic activity. And Cotton said he plans to keep focused on overhauling the management of various federal entities, especially the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
It has “one director, not five commissioners, it is exempt from congressional budgeting and it simply declares to the Federal Reserve how much money it wants,” Cotton said. “We’ve tried to reform this bureau over time” and will continue trying, he said.
CFPB was established by President Obama and was first championed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), likely to be one of Cotton’s sparring partners in the new Congress.