Himes urges pru­dent use of House ma­jor­ity

The Norwalk Hour - - FRONT PAGE - By Dan Freed­man

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 in the ma­jor­ity and mi­nor­ity — and there’s no ques­tion which he prefers.

In the age of Demo­cratic push­back on Pres­i­dent 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 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.

“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.

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