Waxman Takes Center Stage as Chief Investigator
The diminutive Henry A. Waxman is a towering figure on Capitol Hill these days.
As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the veteran Democratic congressman from California has broad jurisdiction and sweeping subpoena power over a wide spectrum of the federal government -- and corporate America, too.
He's a reformer, an advocate, a showman. And "he understands the investigative process," said Norm Ornstein, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Since claiming the committee gavel in the new Democratic-controlled Congress, Waxman has opened investigations into potential Hatch Act violations by political appointees at the General Services Administration, requested all the e-mails on the Republican National Committee servers written by White House staff members and reviewed contracting in Iraq, among other hot spots.
Along the way, he has commanded an A-list of witnesses who not only help him ferret out information but also invariably guarantee a stream of headlines.
It was a full house, for instance, in his committee room when Valerie Plame, the former clandestine CIA operative-turned-public celebrity, made her congressional debut last month.
Backed by subpoena power, though he has yet to use it, Waxman has sought to question Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and top White House political adviser Karl Rove, among other administration officials.
Republicans, now in the minority, are necessarily leery of Waxman. And already, GOP aides have begun circulating opposition research on him, trying to paint him as an overzealous liberal whose investigations are little more than a partisan scheme.
Waxman, who has been traveling over the congressional spring break, has been unavailable for an interview.
Over the years, he worked closely with Rep. Tom Davis when the Virginia Republican was the committee's chairman. And Davis, now the committee's ranking member, has refrained from publicly criticizing Waxman since Democrats took power.
"At the end of the day, Chairman Waxman will be judged on whether he has made government better," said Davis spokesman David Marin. "The overriding question will be: Is this about making government more effective, or is this about embarrassing the administration?"
Nonetheless, in the evolving showdown between President Bush and congressional Democrats over a range of pressing issues, from the war in Iraq to the controversial sacking of eight U.S. attorneys, Waxman is a powerful weapon in the majority's arsenal, if only because of his committee's ability to force members of an administration, stoked in secrecy, to answer questions at a nationally televised hearing.
"There was a tremendous need for oversight," said Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who goes back with Waxman to their days as members of the Young Democrats at UCLA in the late 1950s and early 1960s. "He is just the guy to do it."
Read the rest here.