Republicans are plotting a strategy to vigorously defend President Donald Trump amid a barrage of expected Democratic investigations into the President, with some of Trump's allies urging the White House to resist cooperating with Democrats at all costs.
Democrats are beefing up their staffs and planning a flurry of investigations on issues ranging from immigration to the President's tax returns -- with incoming House chairmen preparing to issue a bevy of subpoenas if the White House doesn't cooperate.
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But Republicans, privately and publicly, are beginning to argue that Democrats are bound to overreach, so there's little incentive for the White House to turn over information to their foes looking for fresh ammunition. So, in the words of one senior Republican, the White House should "delay, delay and delay" by not turning over documents immediately. And if the House seeks to hold them in contempt, some Republican sources privately say, let them do so since there are no real consequences and punishing Trump officials may only serve to rally the GOP base.
"They didn't campaign on harassing the President," said Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican elected recently to be House GOP leadership's second in command next year. "A lot of the seats they flipped from Republican to Democrat, their candidates were talking about being pro-life and pro-gun and not voting with Nancy Pelosi, so if they vote to be obstructionists they'll do so at cost in two years."
This week, the GOP will begin filling in key positions that will help shape their response as the defenders of Trump. House Republicans have numerous openings atop the key committees that will investigate Trump, and the choices they make to head those panels will set the tone of the Republican resistance to the Democratic House for the next two years.
The committee selections are a key step for Republicans as they prepare for life in the minority next year and how strongly they will defend Trump and his administration. What's more: House Republicans are losing a flurry of staff as Democrats take the majority. In just the House Oversight Committee alone, Democrats will now consume 79 staff members, compared to 39 for the GOP, while the Democratic staff on the House Intelligence Committee is expected to double to 26 members.
In the Senate majority, however, Republicans plan to use their power in the Senate majority to shine a spotlight on topics that Democrats seem eager to avoid. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is expected to be Senate Judiciary chairman next year, signaled he would "totally" investigate the FBI's handling of the investigations into Hillary Clinton and Trump and Russia, which could continue the work that House Republicans have pushed this year.
He also had a warning for Democrats.
"If you want to take oversight and turn it into political games, I'll play that game too," Graham told CNN. "I like my position in the Senate to make sure that things don't get out of bounds."
In the House, the biggest wild card for Republicans remains the role for one of their fiercest street fighters: Rep. Jim Jordan, a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and a close ally of Trump.
The Ohio Republican made an unsuccessful bid for minority leader, but was handily defeated by Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California. Now Jordan is keeping his options open for committee slots — and he hasn't ruled out seeking the posts for the two key oversight committees: Judiciary and Oversight.
He's got a big booster, too: Trump has publicly urged for him to receive a high-ranking post.
"I would like to see Jim in a high position 'cause he deserves it," Trump said in an interview earlier this month with The Daily Caller, when asked if Jordan should be ranking member of Judiciary.
Last week, Jordan said he was still weighing his options.
"We're still looking at it," he told reporters. "I've always been one who's going to fight to get the truth out, no matter what role I've had. So we'll just wait and see."
Race for Judiciary slot
Two House Republicans have publicly declared their candidacy to become the top Republican on Judiciary: Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, who is seen as the front-runner, and Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio.
They both may have the upper hand over Jordan because the position is selected by an internal Republican steering committee dominated by GOP leadership, and Jordan's tactics have alienated more moderate members of the Republican conference. The role has the potential to become one of the most important positions in the House Republican conference, because Judiciary is the committee that would handle any impeachment proceedings.
While Jordan and House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows of North Carolina have been among the most vocal defenders of Trump in the Republican conference, both Collins and Chabot have emphasized they're more than capable of battling the Democrats if they overreach, though they also say they can work with presumptive chair Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, if he's willing to tackle bipartisan issues.
Collins released a statement the day after the election attacking Nadler's plan to "weaponize" the committee, a sign of how he views the role.
"We're here to remind Mr. Nadler that a House majority doesn't give liberals license to chase political vendettas at deep cost — and no benefit — to the hardworking Americans who trust us to honor the law first by following it ourselves," Collins said.
And Chabot has emphasized his experience on the Judiciary panel as the senior-most member running, as well as his work on the committee during the Bill Clinton impeachment.
"We know that their base will be urging them, demanding that they move forward on that," Chabot said in an interview. "So, I think having someone on the Republican side who's been through that before also is invaluable."
"I think (the House Republicans' stance will be to) cooperate when possible, when what we're doing, what we determine, is in the best interest of the country. But to aggressively counter and push back when there's Democratic overreach, which there may very well be on everything from the Mueller investigation to potential impeachment of various officials," Chabot added.
If Jordan doesn't make a bid for Judiciary or is unsuccessful, he could also wind up atop the Oversight Committee, where Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina is retiring. Jordan's close ally, Meadows, is also a potential candidate there.
Looming battles over Russia and taxes
On the Intelligence Committee, Republicans are gearing up to battle the Democratic lawmaker who was a sharp critic of their oversight for the past two years: Rep. Adam Schiff of California.
The committee was a partisan battleground during the Russia investigation, and Schiff has been talking about trying to get back to its bipartisan roots under his leadership. But Republicans aren't buying it yet, as Schiff has also raised elements of the Russia investigation he still thinks need to be investigated.
"I'm confident that the investigation we did covered the waterfront," said Rep. Mike Conaway, the Texas Republican who led the Russia probe. "If he finds something new or different, then that's fine, but I hope that the Intel Committee doesn't suffer under his leadership in terms of oversight of the agencies, the worldwide threats we see, making sure our agencies have the right tools and funding to be able to do what they need to do. I hope he doesn't allow that to slip in his quest to investigate whatever he wants to investigate."
Gowdy, who worked across from Schiff on both the House Intelligence and Benghazi Select Committee, objected to the idea that Schiff was a "transparency king" who simply wanted all the facts out.
"He wants some of the facts to come out. But you wouldn't know that Secretary Clinton had her own email if you'd listen to Adam and the Democrats," Gowdy said in reference to Hillary Clinton's private email use that was unearthed in the Benghazi investigation. "You wouldn't know it. They fought me every step of the way."
Rep. Pete King, a Republican from New York, said GOP members hadn't strategized much about how to counter Democratic investigations, but that he thought the key would be knowing when to resist and when to cooperate across the aisle.
"We have to be careful to resist everything," King said. "If it is a legitimate inquiry, we should cooperate. If it is clearly just a publicity scam, we have to go after that."
In the House Ways and Means committee, the partisan fight will be over Trump's tax returns.
Rep. Richard Neal, the man expected to lead the committee, told CNN last week in an interview he planned to ask for Trump's tax returns. While the Massachusetts Democrat hoped that Trump would turn them over voluntarily, Neal said he was prepared to use an arcane rule that allows the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Finance Committee Chairman to request the returns from Treasury.
But, Kevin Brady, the current chairman, said he was prepared to push back.
"That would be a major abuse of power," Brady said of Neal's plans. "The tax law that is in questions is designed purely for administrative purposes of the tax code not to be used for rummaging through the tax returns of political opponents," Brady said.
Brady's comments gave a preview of how Republicans plan to make the case that Democrats are going to extreme measures to attack Trump.
"I hope that Democrats rethink that extreme approach because if the only standard is you are on someone's political enemies list it means every Americans' tax return can be made public if the party sees you as a threat," Brady said.
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