Center for Security Policy
April 2, 2020
By Fred Fleitz
When the coronavirus crisis is over, it is important that there be thorough investigations of how the government at all levels – federal, state and local – responded. These investigations also must look at how the world handled the pandemic, especially China and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Rep. Bennie Thompson, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, recently introduced legislation to create a 9/11-like commission to produce a “full and complete accounting of the nation’s preparedness and response” to the coronavirus epidemic. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff also is drafting a bill to create such a commission.
While this may sound like a good idea because of how popular the 9/11 Commission was with most Americans, there are several reasons why President Trump and congressional Republicans should insist that Congress and not a 9/11-like commission do such an investigation.
First, it is naïve to think that a 9/11-like coronavirus commission, due to the current political environment in Washington, would be bipartisan or objective. Democrats are obsessed with defeating Donald Trump in the 2020 election and are certain to continue their efforts and weaponize the pandemic to destroy his presidency if he wins in November. Consider that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently summed up her sentiments with the Watergate-like comment, “What did he [Trump] know and when did he know it? That’s for an after-action review. But as the President fiddles, people are dying.” A 9/11-like commission to investigate how the nation responded to the coronavirus pandemic likely would be used by the president’s hyperpartisan adversaries to put a bipartisan veneer on such statements to politicize the virus crisis and amplify attacks on the president, rather than learn lessons from the pandemic.
It’s worth remembering that this is not the first-time congressional Democrats have tried to use a new 9/11-like commission as a political weapon against President Trump – they also tried to create such a commission to investigate their now-debunked and discredited claims that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
Second, Thompson, Schiff and others want to create a 9/11-like coronavirus commission because they know it will be treated by the press as a more credible, bipartisan body whose findings should be binding on all. This is not the way our system of government is supposed to operate. Congress is charged with oversight under the Constitution – it should not be contracting out its constitutional oversight responsibility to unelected blue-ribbon commissions with no accountability.
Third, backers of a 9/11-like coronavirus commission also know such panels have a history of going beyond their mandates to use crises to implement bad ideas that Congress would not approve in normal circumstances. The 9/11 Commission did this when it recommended the creation of the Director of National Intelligence post which led to the creation of a huge and wasteful layer of intelligence bureaucracy.
There is a long list of proposals that have nothing to do with the coronavirus crisis that the House majority unsuccessfully tried to cram into in the recent virus relief bill, such as an increase in collective bargaining power for unions, canceling Postal Service debt, same-day voter registration, increased fuel emission standards for airlines, “corporate board diversity” requirements and “pay equity” between men and women as well as white employees and minorities. Republicans should not give the Democrats a new platform to force these and other bad ideas on the American people.
Fourth, given the determination of congressional Democrats to blame President Trump for the coronavirus outbreak in the United States and their reluctance to discuss the coverup of the virus danger by the Chinese government and the World Health Organization, it’s unlikely a Democrat-engineered 9/11-like coronavirus commission would hold China and the WHO accountable. Democratic politicians continue to treat any effort to fault Beijing for this crisis as racist and xenophobic. Open congressional hearings would allow Republican members to counter such ridiculous arguments in front of the American people – and also hold responsible Democratic lawmakers who make them. One is challenged to find a single Democrat lawmaker who has consistently denounced Chinese regime disinformation and propaganda against the United States.
After this crisis has passed, the House and Senate should set up their own special committees with subpoena power to investigate how all levels of government handled the coronavirus epidemic as well as the negligence and malfeasance of China and the WHO. Congress should not try to hide the politics of such investigations by contracting out its oversight responsibilities to a 9/11-like commission. Given today’s political environment, most Americans will not view such a commission as more credible or less political.
House Speaker Pelosi announced this week the creation of a select coronavirus committee to investigate Trump administration efforts to battle the pandemic and oversee the virus relief bills. This is unnecessary because the coronavirus relief bills already require oversight. Existing House committees can monitor the White House response to this crisis as part of their normal oversight. A high-profile House coronavirus committee holding hearings now will distract the Trump admistration from its efforts to fight the virus. Pelosi’s proposal to create a select coronavirus committee is a political stunt to hold impeachment-like hearings to hurt Mr. Trump politically before the November presidential election. It also probably reflects Pelosi’s realization that Republicans are unlikely to agree to a 9/11-like commission.
House and Senate coronavirus commissions would have investigative staffs, large budgets, and call a wide range of experts and government officials. There will be heated debates over government responses to the pandemic and China’s culpability. There probably will be majority and minority reports. The American voter will hold members of Congress accountable for their performance on these panels. This is the way our system of government is supposed to work.
Given their record since President Trump won the 2016 election, we must assume a 9/11-like coronavirus commission is a Democratic stunt to undermine Mr. Trump and take political advantage of a crisis. President Trump and Republican congressional leaders must be firm that they will never agree to such a stunt but welcome robust coronavirus investigations by Congress.