Rep. Jim Himes’ excitement about Democrats regaining the House of Representatives majority is tempered by apprehension that the party might overplay its hand.
“This is a two-year audition,” Himes said in an interview. “We had better produce results.”
In nearly 10 years representing Connecticut’s 4th Congressional District on Capitol Hill, Himes has been both in the majority and minority — and there’s no question which he prefers.
At the same time, he’s hitched his wagon to the centrist-Democrat mantra as head of the New Democrat Coalition — a position he will relinquish come January.
In the age of Democratic pushback on Presidential Donald Trump’s perceived violations of presidential norms, Himes believes the party has to walk a fine line between needed oversight and investigations that appear purely political.
“We have to be the adults in the room,” he said.
The interview took place just hours before President Donald Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and assigned oversight of the Trump-Russia investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller to a loyalist, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.
The long-rumored dismissal sent shock waves across Washington and the nation, prompting Democrats to warn of an impending Constitutional crisis unseen since the Watergate era. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, pledged to investigate the firing and said “people will be held accountable.”
“The firing of Jeff Sessions is a blatantly transparent attempt by the president to derail the Mueller investigation,” Himes said in a subsequent statement. “The new Democratic majority in the House is not going to stand by idly while our institutions are under attack. (We) have a duty to act as a check to the president and provide oversight.”
But in the earlier interview, Himes pointed to none other than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who warned Wednesday that Republicans pursued what he called “presidential harassment” against President Bill Clinton in the 1998 Monica Lewinsky scandal — only to see it backfire at the polls.
While he disavows the characterization of House Democrat investigations involving Trump as “presidential harassment,” Himes does feel the crafty Senate leader has a point.
“If the administration gives us probable cause for investigations, you’re darn right (the House will pursue it),” he said. “But if it’s perceived that Congress is using its power to score partisan points, we’ll pay a price for that.”
Himes’ position may be nuanced. But ultimately his view may not be much different than that of his Connecticut neighbor, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a veteran left-leaning progressive.Read Full Article
“Democrats will exercise their oversight responsibility to make sure our federal agencies are doing their job and hold the Trump administration accountable where necessary — including protecting the Mueller investigation,” DeLauro said.
As a member of the House intelligence committee, Himes could play an influential role in whatever posture the House chooses to take in opposition to Trump’s encroachment. Under Republican leadership, the committee conducted a half-hearted investigation of Trump 2016 campaign connections but brought the curtain down early with a finding there was no collusion.
Himes said he believes that with Democrats in charge, the committee should wait for Mueller to complete his investigation and then conduct oversight if significant questions are left unanswered.
Himes is second in seniority behind the committee’s senior Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. Under traditional Democratic rules, a House intel chairman or ranking member is limited to two terms — four years total.
But Schiff has provided a calm but assertive voice on cable news shows as the committee investigation proceeded, and then fell apart. Since the election restored control of the House to Democrats, Schiff has been anointed by television interviewers as the incoming chair of House intelligence.
Should the prospective Democratic House speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., choose Schiff over Himes, “I’ll support him 200 percent,” Himes said.
But Himes is not bashful about acknowledging his own interest in the job. And down the road before the 116th Congress convenes in January, he said he intends to make his interest in the position known to Pelosi.
For Democrats, success or failure in the next two years may depend less on investigations and more on their performance on bread-and-butter issues like taxes, infrastructure, health care and regulation of financial markets.
Himes, a former Goldman-Sachs executive, could see his role on the House Financial Services Committee expanded. That would include ending Republican efforts to chip away at the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, passed in the wake of the 2007-2008 Great Recession.
Keeping protections in place is key to preventing another financial meltdown, Himes said.
“We’ve seen this movie before,” he said.