Pelosi and McConnell in talks to pick chair of $2T coronavirus oversight panel

“Then the leader and I are in a conversation about how we put together a list and come to agreement on somebody who we would both have confidence in,” Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday night. “And there are probably plenty of people we could agree on.”

The five-member Congressional Oversight Commission, established in the so-called CARES Act — the $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package for hospitals and the economy — is lawmakers’ primary tool to monitor the Trump administration’s spending decisions, particularly from a $500 billion fund controlled by the U.S. Treasury meant to stabilize crumbling industries and companies. Each Republican and Democratic leader in the House and Senate are empowered to pick one member of the panel, and Pelosi and McConnell (R-Ky.) are charged with jointly picking the chair.

So far though, only Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has announced a selection: Bharat Ramamurti, a former aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Pelosi said she’s close to naming her own choice to the commission as well but hasn’t settled on a time to announce it.

“I have a very good person in mind,” Pelosi said. “I have no idea when that person wants to do it. I have to find that out first.”

The Congressional Oversight Commission is one of three primary tools created in the CARES Act meant to oversee the Trump administration’s handling of the law. But, like the congressional panel, the other two are not yet functional, even as hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars begin to flow.

One mechanism, a special inspector general for pandemic recovery, has been nominated by Trump and is awaiting Senate confirmation. But with lawmakers out of Washington until at least April 20, and Trump’s pick of a White House lawyer for the post generating controversy, it could be weeks before an appointee is on the job.

The most powerful safeguard in the law is a panel of existing federal inspectors general known as the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, charged with monitoring the entirety of the $2 trillion implementation. Though the committee appeared ready to begin operating, Trump upended the preparations when he moved to sideline the chair — former acting Pentagon inspector general Glenn Fine.

Pelosi, meanwhile, said she’s still charging forward with a fourth layer of oversight: A House select committee chaired by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) to streamline the House’s own review of the CARES Act implementation. Pelosi has yet to name other members of the panel and indicated Republicans would have an opportunity to pick members as well.

But it’s unclear how quickly such a committee might be established. Republicans have indicated they’re opposed to Pelosi’s proposal, leaving it unlikely to pass with unanimous support while lawmakers are away from Washington. That means it could be weeks or even a month before the House can return to Washington to vote to establish the new committee.

“We will have an oversight committee,” Pelosi said. “[Republicans] will be given the opportunity to appoint members to it … but that will be up to them. But it’s not going to be up to them whether we have it or not. Absolutely, positively not.”