Rep. Maxine Waters encouraged her supporters to confront members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet. Rep. Al Green repeatedly called for Trump to be impeached. Now the two House Democrats chair key House panels that can serve as forums for their initiatives.
And poised to be their loyal opposition: Republican Rep. Andy Barr.
Barr, a Lexington Republican, has been appointed the top Republican on the oversight and investigations subcommittee of the powerful House Financial Services Committee.
The full committee is chaired by Democratic firebrand Waters of California, who earned the enmity of Trump after calling for the public to “absolutely harass” Trump administration officials. Chairing the subcommittee will be Green of Texas, who irked even his own party by seeking to force a House vote on impeachment.
Barr’s ascension reflects the belief of GOP leadership that he can work across the aisle and keep committee hearings from devolving into ugly partisan brawls, he said.
“I have a temperament that (Republican leadership) thinks will serve the committee well in what could otherwise be a fairly adversarial situation, given the personalities involved,” said Barr, known more for affability than partisan bomb-throwing.
It’s likely Trump, who has said Democratic attempts at oversight could amount to “presidential harassment,” will be watching. Speaking last week at the White House, Trump singled out Barr as one of the House members he helped re-elect by holding a campaign event in his district.
“I went and campaigned for Andy Barr and for some others, they ended up winning their races,” Trump said, as he otherwise rued losing the House to the Democrats.
Democrats are being careful. Green, in a statement issued by his office, said that he looked forward “to working with all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to do what’s in the best interest of the American people.”
Green said the subcommittee’s focus would include “fair lending, fair housing, and a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that protects all American consumers from predatory practices.”
With a Republican Senate and Trump in the White House, it’s unlikely the Democratic House will pass significant new regulations dealing with the banking industry or Wall Street.
But Democrats will have investigatory and subpoena power. Barr, a member of the financial services committee since he became a congressman in 2013, noted Waters has already signaled she plans to use the full committee and the subcommittee to investigate the administration “on a whole range of issues.”
Waters in a recent speech indicated she’d focus on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which was headed by Mick Mulvaney, now Trump’s acting chief of staff.
Waters charged Republicans and Mulvaney with looking to “undermine and destroy” the consumer bureau established by President Barack Obama and pledged that she’d be “working diligently to undo the damage that Mulvaney has wrought.” The agency was given broad oversight over mortgages, credit reporting, debt collection and payday loans, as well as other financial products and services.
Barr insisted he is “equally committed to fulfilling Congress’ responsibility to conduct oversight over the executive branch, regardless of who is in the White House, regardless of party.” But, he added, “I would hope that we don’t get bogged down in fishing expeditions or partisan politics or amplifying these conflicts of personalities.”
He argued that congressional oversight is not unlimited and “should be driven by the law, by the facts and by legitimate legislative purposes, not partisan politics.”
One target for Waters, who has pledged to investigate Trump’s “money trail,” is Deutsche Bank, the German lending giant that did extensive business with Trump before he became president.
Before she became chairwoman, Waters asked the bank for details on internal reviews it reportedly conducted regarding its handling of Trump accounts and its involvement in Russian money laundering.
Barr noted that the top Republican on the full committee, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-North Carolina, is also interested in examining Deutsche Bank’s previous money laundering controversies. McHenry, however, did not mention the bank’s ties to Trump in a letter he sent to the bank asking for documents.
Also watching Barr’s performance is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which considers Barr among the top 25 most vulnerable House Republicans. He was included in the group’s first digital ad campaign of the 2020 cycle, targeting Republicans who had voted against House spending bills to re-open the government.
“Congressman Barr has been a defender of Washington’s swamp since the day he was elected, and now he’s gearing up to use his office to protect politicians from accountability,” said DCCC spokesman Cole Leiter.
Barr rebuffed suggestions that his role on the committee could paint him as overly partisan in a district that he flipped from Democratic control in 2012.
“This assignment gives me an opportunity to demonstrate and showcase that I’m a fair minded person who is committed to oversight based on the law and the facts,” Barr said.
Waters has populated the committee with several well-known, anti-Wall Street Democratic freshmen. Barr said he looks forward to striking a contrast, particularly with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, who consider themselves Democratic socialists.
“We need a robust debate about the failures of socialism,” Barr said, suggesting that its adherents “don’t really understand the way the real world works.”
He said financial services have served as the “guardian of free market capitalism” and that he welcomed a debate over “whether we believe in central planning or whether we believe in individual freedom.”
Barr said his priority on the committee will be defending and ensuring that federal agencies carry out a 2018 law that rolled back parts of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The recent legislation relaxes rules on credit unions and community banks and repeals a provision that barred banks from making certain types of risky investments.
Waters opposed the measure as a “giveaway to banks that are already posting record profits” and pledged that after the Democrats took control of the House in January that the days of the committee rolling back banking regulations “will come to an end.” But Barr, who joined Trump at the White House as he signed the legislation into law, noted that it passed the Senate with Democratic support.
Waters has said she is open to working across the aisle, noting that she’s sponsored legislation with McHenry.
But she made it clear she’s the boss: “I will work with those on the opposite side of the aisle who want to work on issues that we are alluding to,” she said at the rollout of her plans. “But, of course, if they don’t, I have the gavel.”
In addition to the high-profile appointment, Barr, who in 2018 fended off a competitive challenge from Marine veteran Amy McGrath, was also named for the first time to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Barr established a local veterans’ coalition after he was first elected and said veterans’ issues are “a passion of mine.”