Gowdy front-runner to be next Oversight chairman

Rep. Trey GowdyTrey GowdyCongressional investigations — not just special counsels — strengthen our democracy These 5 House Republicans are ripping their Senate colleagues over healthcare House Intelligence Republican: Claims Gowdy acted as second lawyer for Kushner 'horses---t' MORE (R-S.C.) could be the next chairman of the House Oversight Committee — if he wants the job.

The popular South Carolina Republican and former Select Committee on Benghazi chairman has emerged as the front-runner to replace Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzCurtis wins GOP primary for House seat vacated by Jason Chaffetz Chaffetz named Harvard Institute of Politics fellow Fox's Chaffetz: Rosenstein has 'absolutely zero credibility' on going after leakers MORE (R-Utah), who made it official Thursday that he would resign from Congress on June 30. 

Gowdy, a prominent leadership ally, has been racking up endorsements from colleagues on the Oversight panel and the influential Steering Committee, which will choose the next chairman. The 52-year-old former prosecutor is one of a handful of senior Oversight members who has been calling and texting Steering members about the gavel. 

“If Trey runs, he’ll get it,” one Steering Committee member told The Hill.

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But Gowdy’s office said the congressman has made no final decision about whether he’ll run.

“Rep. Gowdy is talking to members in the conference about the qualities they believe are most important for the next Chairman to possess,” said Gowdy spokeswoman Amanda Gonzalez.

At least two other Oversight members — Reps. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) and Steve Russell (R-Okla.) — have been reaching out to the 32-member Steering panel.

The Oversight Committee is stacked with members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, and several of them said they favored former Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to be the next chairman. 

Jordan is third in seniority on the Oversight panel behind Reps. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) and former Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), neither of whom are making a play for the gavel. Gowdy is eighth in seniority and would need to leapfrog a number of colleagues to win the gavel.

Seniority is considered by the Steering panel, but isn’t the deciding factor: Chaffetz, backed by GOP leaders, beat several more senior colleagues to win the Oversight gavel in late 2014; Rep. Diane BlackDiane BlackHouse to take up spending bills, then budget Jockeying begins in race for House Budget gavel Overnight Finance: Trump signs Russia sanctions bill, rips Congress | Trump plan would cut legal immigration | Senate confirms labor board pick | House Budget chair running for governor | Regulator takes step to change 'Volcker Rule' MORE (R-Tenn.) performed a similar feat on the Budget Committee earlier this year.

Jordan conceded Thursday that it’d be an uphill battle for him to win given that the Steering group is largely comprised of loyalists to Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP chairman to discuss Charlottesville as domestic terrorism at hearing Trump’s isolation grows GOP lawmaker: Trump 'failing' in Charlottesville response MORE (R-Wis.). Jordan had been one of the Freedom ringleaders who pressured then-Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerIt's time for McConnell to fight with Trump instead of against him How Republicans can bring order out of the GOP's chaos Republican donor sues GOP for fraud over ObamaCare repeal failure MORE (R-Ohio) to resign in 2015, making Jordan persona non grata to some GOP colleagues.

"I love the work on the committee. I think I would have strong support amongst committee members,” Jordan said. “But, I mean, let’s be honest. The process for determining the chairman’s not the makeup of — it’s not a vote of the members on the committee. It’s a vote on the Steering Committee." 

“And that process is not always the one that’s most favorable to guys like me who don’t always go along with the establishment,” Jordan added.

The next Oversight chairman will have to negotiate a number of political landmines in the coming months given the series of crises the Trump White House is currently facing. There are now congressional, FBI and Justice Department probes into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 campaign.

And just this week, Chaffetz had formally requested memos from recently ousted FBI Director James Comey after The New York Times reported that Comey had documented in a memo that Trump had urged him to drop his investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Whereas Gowdy burnished his reputation investigating Clinton and the Obama administration, the Tea Party favorite is now asking himself whether he wants to spend the next four years probing and ferreting waste out of a Republican administration. GOP committee chairmen also are required to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the party each cycle.

Gowdy is already the top choice of leadership. Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), who as a member of leadership gets a vote on the Steering panel, told The Hill on Thursday that he’s endorsing Gowdy for the job.

Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the 170-member Republican Study Committee, endorsed Gowdy, though he doesn’t serve on the Steering panel.

Gowdy “is the person I want for the job and the person I think will get the job,” Walker told The Hill.

Even Ross, who’s been talking to Steering members about the job, said he would defer to Gowdy if the former Benghazi chairman decided to run. Gowdy made a name for himself as his special committee spent more than two years probing the 2012 terrorist attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, and Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonAssange meets U.S. congressman, vows to prove Russia did not leak him documents High-ranking FBI official leaves Russia probe OPINION | Steve Bannon is Trump's indispensable man — don't sacrifice him to the critics MORE’s response to that event as secretary of State.

Gowdy’s Benghazi panel created major headaches for Clinton as she ran for president in 2016. 

“My first wish is to see that it be Trey Gowdy. Trey is a dear friend. I think he’d be exceptional at it. I think he offers great insight. I think he’s got great experience,” Ross told The Hill. 

“And if he chooses not to do it then, yes, I would consider offering myself to do that. But we’ll see how it plays out.”

— Mike Lillis and Cristina Marcos contributed.