Attention to the US House of Representatives usually focuses on big voices and the occasional big debate. Much of the hard work of Congress, however, takes place at the subcommittee level. Here, members focus on drawing attention to neglected issues, formulating responses to challenges, and driving legislation forward. When a subcommittee has dynamic leadership, it can set the agenda of Congress and the overall governance process.
What is the most dynamic subcommittee in the 117th Congress? There are many perspectives that I will ponder, and I will be writing about some of them in the coming weeks. But the one I’m paying a lot of attention to right now is him Committee on Oversight and Reforms Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
This subcommittee, which oversees jurisdiction over civil rights, civil liberties and issues of equal protection, focuses on everything from voting rights to criminal justice reform. It also addresses concerns about the First Amendment, which affect freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and the right to assembly.
However, what makes a subcommittee important is not just the issues it deals with. It is the determination of the subcommittee leaders to highlight complex issues in a way that is related to their peers and the American people. And the heads of this particular subcommittee are experts on that.
The chair is Representative Jamie Raskin, the Maryland Democrat who served as senior manager for the House impeachment team that prosecuted former President Donald Trump for incitement to insurrection. Raskin, an experienced professor of constitutional law, received good marks during the Senate trial in February for careful preparation and exciting presentations. He will not receive the same amount of attention as he conducts hearings on equal protection under the law, as the broadcast media unfortunately pay little attention to the ongoing substantive work of Congress.
But Raskin is going to do great things with this subcommittee. And he’ll have a capable vice chairman who knows how to delve into the subject: rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York Democrat whose combination of boldly progressive political positions and domination of social media made her one of the most recognizable members of the House.
The couple served well together as chairman and vice chairman of the 116th Congress, and Raskin celebrates the fact that they will advance the project in the 117th. “I am delighted that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez will return as vice chairman of this congress,” he said Raskin. “AOC is hardworking, immeasurably eloquent, and passionate about civil rights and civil liberties. It is a relentless advocate of our people and our Bill of Rights.”
Ocasio-Cortez is excited too. “Over the past tenure, this subcommittee has helped resolve the issue of unjust citizenship in the census and has worked to expand suffrage, strengthen immigrant protection and combat white supremacy and domestic terrorism,” she says. “I look forward to working with the other Subcommittee Chairs and Vice Chairs to advance the critical work of the Oversight and Reform Committee over the next two years.”
Raskin becomes specific about this work. “I’m looking forward to working with him,” he says [AOC] stop the infiltration of law enforcement by white supremacist groups and restore the full spectrum of rights and freedoms eroded under the Trump administration. ”
Given the damage Trump has caused, this is an ambitious agenda. What is exciting is that Jamie Raskin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also know how to make it central to the work of the 117th Congress.