Congressional Investigations: Beyond Sensational Headlines — Incoming House Leaders Announce Broad Investigative Priorities Targeting Business Community

December 19, 2018

In the politically explosive atmosphere of Washington, the talk of the town is focused on congressional investigations: who will be called before Congress, and when. Newspaper headlines blare the latest controversy — from use of personal emails for government business, to numerous investigations alleging corruption of current and former government employees, including several cabinet secretaries, and the continuing developments from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. But as the nation prepares for power in the House to change hands on Jan. 3, another question looms large: what does all this mean for the business community? 

Though the priorities of incoming House committee chairs may be relegated to smaller print below the fold, according to their own public commentary and reporting, the new House is poised to commence oversight hearings and congressional inquiries aimed at key segments of the business community. This article highlights the prerogatives of some of the most important committees and industry areas likely to see significant activity from the new House of Representatives.

In the House Judiciary Committee, multiple press outlets report that incoming chair Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) will focus on a variety of healthcare issues, such as consolidation in three major areas — healthcare insurers, the hospital market, and pharmacy benefit managers — as well as investigating the Trump Administration’s decision not to defend the Affordable Care Act against a lawsuit from 20 Republican-led states. According to David Cicilline (D-R.I.), poised to chair the antitrust subcommittee, “We will get to work immediately to promote competition and address monopoly power in health-care markets.” Additionally, spurred by the most recent and widely publicized shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Nadler will likely take up gun control as it relates to mass shootings, implicating the gun manufacturing industry and retail outlets. Finally, while Nadler said he will not move to impeach Justice Brett Kavanaugh, he indicated plans to examine other issues associated with Kavanaugh’s confirmation process. 

Because the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s jurisdiction is broad, incoming chair Elijah Cummings (D-M.D.) is likely to investigate numerous issues spanning several industries. Media reports indicate that these investigations will include the high cost of prescription drugs; the continuing water crisis in Flint, Michigan; and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census. On immigration, Cummings plans to investigate the Trump Administration’s policies on the separation of migrant children from their undocumented parents at the Mexican border. Press reports also confirm Cummings is expected to investigate the General Services Administration’s decision to keep the FBI headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C., as opposed to a suburban headquarters in Maryland or Virginia, thus preventing the land from being developed commercially, in potential competition with the Trump International Hotel.

In the House Financial Services Committee, press reports indicate that incoming chair Rep. Maxine Waters (D-C.A.) will investigate consumer finance issues involving the big banks and credit reporting agencies, as well as the Trump Organization’s ties to large financial institutions. While major legislation rolling back bank deregulation is unlikely given Republican control of the Senate, Waters likely will focus on financial institutions’ conduct — particularly, the conduct of the largest banks — toward consumers during the financial crisis. In Waters’ own words: “I have not forgotten that you sold us those exotic products. … What am I going to do to you? … I’m going to do to you what you did to us.”

There also will likely be substantial investigations activity focused on the energy and environmental arena. For example, incoming chair Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-A.Z.) for the House Natural Resources Committee said he will hold hearings regarding rule changes promulgated by the Trump Administration, including rules addressing climate change, federal waters and waterways, the Endangered Species Act, and the Wilderness Act. Additionally, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who will take over the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said seismic testing, a process where compressed air is shot into the ocean to try to locate oil and gas deposits and is thought to be a precursor of offshore oil drilling testing, “has disastrous consequences for marine wildlife.”

News reports also indicate that incoming chair Rep. Richard Neal (D-M.A.) of the House Ways and Means Committee will lead the House’s consideration of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (the revised NAFTA deal), which will affect the auto, tech, retail, agriculture, labor and environmental sectors of the economy, though reporting requirements will likely delay a vote until the beginning of the second quarter. Press reports also indicate that the House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to hold oversight hearings regarding transparency and data security at some of the nation’s biggest technology companies.

Other commentary suggests that House Education and Workforce Committee incoming chair Rep. Bobby Scott (D-V.A.) will likely examine Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ efforts to overturn a variety of Obama-era education regulations, implicating the private and for-profit college industry, veterans hiring, and the defense industry writ large. Based on recent press and commentary from incoming House leadership, we also anticipate significant investigative activity from House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence incoming chair Adam Schiff (D-C.A.), House Foreign Affairs Committee incoming chairman Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.), House Armed Services incoming chairman Adam Smith (D-W.A.), and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee incoming chair Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-O.R.).

The public statements of the incoming House chairs make it clear that businesses will confront an active period for congressional investigations.  In fact, such activity is likely to continue some of the pitched battles encountered during the Obama Administration, as well as open up new fronts. 

For more detail regarding the stated priorities of these committees or more information about this article generally, please contact any of the authors or other members of our congressional investigations practice.

About McGuireWoods’ Congressional Investigations Group

The Congressional Investigations Group at McGuireWoods is part of an elite Government Investigations & White Collar Litigation Department that was recognized as a Law360 Practice Group of the Year. Our team includes experienced investigations lawyers who have led some of the most high-profile congressional investigations over the past 20 years. Ranging from the Major League Baseball steroid scandal, the “Fast and Furious” investigations, the Deep Water Horizon inquiries and the recent USA Gymnastics sexual assault investigations, our Congressional Investigations lawyers have been there.  We also leverage the wide-ranging capabilities and relationships of McGuireWoods’ lobbying arm, McGuireWoods Consulting, a strong bipartisan team of Capitol Hill veterans with extensive experience of the inner workings of Congress. Complementing our legal and legislative know-how, we maintain robust personal and professional relationships with Members of Congress and their staff, and have earned a reputation for knowing how to navigate the halls of Congress.