WASHINGTON - At least three Republicans — including Freedom Caucus founder Jim Jordan — are jockeying to serve as President Donald Trump’s first line of defense against any effort by House Democrats to seek his impeachment, a job that that carries high risk and narrow rewards.
The position: top GOP seat on the House Judiciary Committee, which could investigate whether there are grounds to remove Trump from office. The job description: counter any allegations of impropriety involving Trump and Russia and his interactions with the Justice Department.
The potential perks — or drawbacks, depending on the lawmaker’s perspective — include national television exposure, with lots of appearances on Fox News, and command of a minority committee staff. But the job also carries the risk of being second-guessed by the president and being tethered to Trump’s explanations for allegations raised by Democrats, who will take control of the House in January.
“This committee is going to be covered like the O.J. trial,” predicts Matt Gaetz of Florida, a panel member who isn’t seeking the post.
There’s another complication. Because the Democrats prevailed in the House midterm elections, the committee’s top Republican won’t be chairman, like Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, who’s retiring. That doesn’t seem to have dampened the enthusiasm of Doug Collins of Georgia, a panel member who predicted that he’ll be the choice of his party.
Collins, who is part of the GOP’s House leadership team, said he expects the decision to be made next week.
Another, longer-serving Judiciary member, Steve Chabot of Ohio, wants the job, too. He technically is next-in-line in seniority, excluding Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, who has already served as the top Republican. Chabot said he’s the most experienced and qualified, pointing out that he was an impeachment manager in the case against President Bill Clinton.
“I’ve been in the thick of it for a long time,” Chabot said.
Gaetz and other allies have been pitching a third possibility: Jim Jordan of Ohio, a Trump favorite and co-founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Jordan has helped lead a Republican inquiry into accusations of FBI and Justice Department bias against Trump leading up to the 2016 election. House officials familiar with Jordan’s thinking said he’s considering a bid.
Democrats plan to use the subpoena power that comes with winning a majority to investigate Trump and his administration. Some of them have been pushing for his impeachment since last year, though the current top Democrat, Nancy Pelosi of California, and other party leaders have downplayed that idea.
The Judiciary Committee, to be led by Democrat Jerrold Nadler of New York, would become the focal point of any impeachment effort. Nadler has sidestepped questions on impeachment and has said he and his colleagues would be looking into the administration’s immigration policies, environmental enforcement, the Justice Department’s failure to defend the Affordable Care Act, Matt Whitaker’s appointment as acting attorney general, and accusations of sexual misconduct and perjury against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Collins, Chabot and Jordan all say Republicans should would work with Nadler and other Democrats when they can - and fight back as needed.
“That’s what I will do,” Jordan said.
Some colleagues say Jordan’s chances of being chosen could be complicated by the hard-line positions he and other Freedom Caucus members have taken. But Gaetz said the party needs “a brawler” on Judiciary — and that Jordan is the right person to be “the face of the Trump defense.”
Collins, who several members say is seen as the more likely choice, said he could get along with the committee’s new leadership, but added this warning: “Don’t cross me.”
“Where they want to go off on wild goose chases and rabbits, I tell you, we’re going to be there to defend the process and defend what it is we believe is a waste of time and waste of resources,” Collins said. “It’s offense and defense, and we’re going to work forcefully on both.”
Both Jordan and Collins have been on Fox at least once since the election, while Chabot hasn’t, which may be a strike against him for some Republicans.