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Pelosi announces new House committee to oversee coronavirus response

Over 6 million file for unemployment

Washington — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced her intention to create a bipartisan House committee to oversee the federal response to the coronavirus crisis, led by Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, the majority whip.

Pelosi told reporters during her weekly press conference Thursday that the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis would oversee the dispersal of funds from the $2.2 trillion relief bill signed by President Trump last week, and "ensure the taxpayers dollars are being wisely and efficiently spent."

"The panel will root out waste, fraud and abuse. It will protect against price-gouging, profiteering and political favoritism," Pelosi told reporters, adding that the panel will wield subpoena power. "We need transparency and accountability."

Pelosi expressed support for looking at the federal government's initial response to the crisis, but said that should not be the top priority for the new committee, which will likely be formally established by House resolution. Pelosi said the focus of the committee would be on the "here and now."

"Is there need for an after-action review? Absolutely," Pelosi said. "But I don't want to wait for that, because we're in the action right now."

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson introduced legislation Wednesday to create a panel modeled on the 9/11 Commission to study the government's response to the crisis and offer recommendations. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has also expressed support for creating a coronavirus commission.

In a letter to colleagues announcing the formation of the committee, Pelosi said that it was modeled on a select committee led by then-Senator Harry Truman to oversee national defense during World War II to ensure taxpayer dollars were being spent expeditiously.

"What made sense then makes even more sense now," Pelosi said in her letter. "The committee will be empowered to examine all aspects of the federal response to the coronavirus to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being wisely and efficiently spent to save lives, deliver relief and benefit our economy."

However, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy expressed concerns about the creation of a select committee, given that the $2 trillion stimulus already includes oversight measures. He also said it was "redundant" to create a new committee when the House Oversight and Reform Committee already exists.

McCarthy said he would speak to Pelosi about the creation of the committee Thursday afternoon.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also said Thursday that he did not believe a select committee was necessary, as the "phase three" bill already includes oversight mechanisms.

Mr. Trump dismissed the creation of a bipartisan select committee as "ridiculous," comparing it to the "witch hunts" he has undergone before.

"The people doing the witch hunts have been losing," Mr. Trump said during a briefing by the coronavirus task force Thursday. He said that any investigations would "build up my poll numbers."

In her call with reporters, Pelosi reiterated her desire to pass "phase four" coronavirus response legislation focused on infrastructure. The economic fallout from the pandemic has been severe, with more than 6.6 million people filing unemployment claims last week alone.

Pelosi expressed confidence that Congress would be able to pass this legislation when it returns in late April, despite reservations from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"Infrastructure has rarely been a partisan discussion," Pelosi said.

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