With a new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, political junkies and opponents of the Trump administration are expecting aggressive oversight of the executive branch. But as UB School of Law Dean Ronald Weich wrote in a Jan. 4 Washington Post op-ed, “congressional oversight is a serious business with a huge impact on government policies.” He then debunked, five common myths about congressional oversight.
Addressing the myth that oversight is largely motivated by partisan score-settling, Dean Weich wrote: “Oversight is not a game. It is a core constitutional function, a cornerstone of the structural checks and balances on which our federal government is built. Congress cannot carry out its constitutional duties without the power to investigate whether the laws it enacts are being faithfully executed and whether the money it appropriates is being properly spent.
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the exercise of congressional oversight, including the power of committees to issue subpoenas, because oversight is ‘inherent in the legislative process.’ … Far from presidential harassment, oversight is Congress doing its job.”
On the topic of whether executive privilege trumps congressional oversight, Dean Weich argued that executive privilege claims should always be “weighed against Congress’ need to obtain information to carry out its constitutional duties.” In addition, he wrote, the House can withhold funding for executive agencies that fail to comply with legitimate oversight requests.
Of the notion that congressional oversight could “bring down” President Trump, Dean Weich noted that overly aggressive attempts at oversight are not always successful, as in the Clinton administration, and have the potential to backfire politically.