WASHINGTON — Jason Chaffetz, set to become the House’s top watchdog over the Obama administration next year, says he wants aggressive oversight of the federal government but doesn’t want it to feel as “personal” as it has been in recent years.
“Our job is not to attack the president,” the Utah Republican congressman argued Tuesday during a discussion in his Capitol Hill office with a group of journalists. “Our job is to go after the policies and the functions of our government. And as long as we focus on the policies and the issues, we’re going to be just fine. … The facts and the issues will speak for themselves.”
Dressed casually in a black House of Representatives sweater fleece, the 47-year-old incoming House Oversight chairman repeatedly emphasized that he wants the committee to be different than it was under Darrell Issa, the media-friendly Republican congressman who is giving up the chairman’s gavel this year after facing term-limits.
“I’m very grateful to Darrell Issa,” Chaffetz said of his predecessor. “I learned a lot. But I’m a different person and I have a different approach. And everybody’s going to put their stamp on things. And I can be as aggressive as anybody, but it doesn’t need to be so personal.”
Asked if he thinks Issa went too far as chairman, Chaffetz replied: “There were several times when things got too personal, and I thought it was wrong.”
Underscoring his desire for a change, Chaffetz said Issa will no longer sit on the committee and estimated that he will replace about 60 percent of Issa’s committee staff.
He also promised more in-depth reports authored by the committee, and said he wants committee members — not just the chairman — doing television hits on their investigations.
“I want to see more of our members doing that. … It’s not the Jason Chaffetz show,” he said.
After the Republican Steering Committee chose Chaffetz to replace Issa as chairman month, the California Republican gave his blessings to Chaffetz. “Congressman Chaffetz is a valued colleague and demonstrated leader who will continue the work of the Oversight Committee in the next Congress,” Issa said. “I am looking forward to working with him on the transition and moving my focus to other responsibilities.”
Under Issa, the committee has been a constant thorn in the side of the Obama administration, investigating things like the Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal, the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS and the 2012 attacks in Benghazi.
Chaffetz, whose office is decorated with memorabilia from his days as a placekicker for Brigham Young University, said Tuesday that “obviously, the IRS and Obamacare are going to get a major portion of our attention.”
While Chaffetz said the committee will examine problems with embassy security, the congressman said the committee is done investigating Benghazi.
“I’m not doing anything with Benghazi,” Chaffetz said, referencing the new select committee in the House on the attacks and its chairman. “”at’s all Trey Gowdy.”
But Chaffetz suggested that it is still a topic that interests himself personally. “I know how to whisper in Trey’s ear,” he said.
The incoming-chairman said embassy security “after Benghazi” will be examined.
“On-going concerns about embassy security, design and build is a huge, huge issue,” he said. “It was working well with Colin Powell, and Hillary Clinton changed it. And it’s a disaster. It’s a major threat to those people that serve over seas, and we’re going to be doing a lot with that.”
He said the committee will likely also further investigate things like the Secret Service, problems with the Freedom of Information Act and the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
Discussing Obamacare, Chaffetz mentioned his desire to get more information from Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber, who infamously said the law was passed because of “the stupidity of the American voter.”
“I think this is information that we need,” Chaffetz said of Gruber. “He was obviously part of the inner circle of people often referred to as the architects of Obamacare. There was only a handful of people in the room with the president for an hour and a half talking about it, and he was one of them.Taxpayers paid for that information and I think we ought to be able to see it.”
Summing up his philosophy of the committee’s broad role in oversight of the administration, Chaffetz said: “This is what we do in America. We are self-critical.”
“This is how we get things better,” he elaborated. “I’d like to think I’d be this tenacious if Mitt Romney was the president. It’s the check and balance of government. It’s the core function of our Constitution.”