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SC's Rep. Jim Clyburn to lead US House select committee on coronavirus pandemic

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House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina speaks on the House floor in 2019. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tapped Clyburn to lead a select committee overseeing the response to the coronavirus pandemic. File/House Television via AP

COLUMBIA — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tapped South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn to lead a select committee overseeing the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

On a conference call with reporters Thursday, Pelosi said the bipartisan committee would be tasked with ensuring the recovery funds approved by Congress are "wisely and efficiently spent" and preventing profiteering or waste.

"We face a deadly virus and a battered economy with millions of Americans suddenly out of work," said Pelosi, D-Calif. "Congress has taken an important step in meeting this crisis by passing three bills with over $2 trillion in emergency relief. We need to make sure those dollars are spent carefully and effectively."

The decision will elevate Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat from Columbia and a longtime Pelosi ally, into an even more prominent role as the public face of the House's coronavirus response.

In a statement, Clyburn said he was "deeply humbled by the Speaker's confidence in me to lead this Select Committee" and is "ready to take on the challenge."

“I believe very strongly that we cannot let the assistance directed toward addressing this crisis accrue in an unequitable fashion," Clyburn said.

"In the recovery from previous crises like the Great Depression and various recessions, parts of our great country were left behind, having not been treated equitably," he added. "We cannot allow that to happen in this pandemic."

Pelosi compared the committee to one formed 80 years ago by then-U.S. Sen. Harry Truman at the outset of World War II, saying the eventual president "immediately recognized the urgency of oversight and accountability and making sure the money did what it was supposed to do."

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Pelosi said the special coronavirus panel will have subpoena power and will be focused on "the here and now," as opposed to an investigation into the past.

"Where there's money, there's also frequently mischief," Pelosi said. "We want to just make sure that the funds that are put out there are done so with the conditions that we had in the legislation, that there will be implementation of the bill expeditiously and any way that we can be helpful with having more transparency to get that done."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy immediately took issue with Pelosi's decision to create a select committee, arguing those tasks could be performed by the regular oversight committee, and specifically with her choice of Clyburn to lead it.

"It's concerning to me because Congressman Clyburn is the one who's thought this crisis was an opportune time to restructure government," said McCarthy, R-Calif. "That's not what we should be doing. We should be taking care of the health of the American public, keeping our economy strong, just as it was before, and moving forward."

During negotiations over the recovery package that passed through Congress last week, Clyburn reportedly told House Democrats the legislation represented "a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision."

The last time a South Carolinian chaired a House select committee was when now-former Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg, led the investigation into the 2012 terrorist attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

The House is currently slated to return to Washington, D.C., on April 20.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

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