Interview of the Week: Kurt Bardella
Kurt Bardella and House Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings
Kurt Bardella was a Senior Advisor on the Oversight and Reform Committee staff when the Republicans controlled the House. He has since become a Democrat. He is currently the CEO of Endeavor Strategies, a strategic communications firm, and the Publisher of Morning Hangover, a daily email newsletter on country music.
ODP: The House Committee on Oversight and Reform (COR) is planning to be very active on climate change issues. Is this unprecedented? Appropriate?
KB: I think this is an area where we are seeing the real impact of having some new blood like AOC on the Committee. New members mean new priorities and a fresh take on what we need to focus on. In the early 2000s, the focal point was the War in Iraq. At the start of the Obama presidency, the focus was on the financial crisis and the bailout of financial institutions. Now, as we start a new decade, it is only natural that different priorities guide a committee like this. To that end, it is 100% appropriate for this issue to be at the forefront of the Committee’s focus. By design, the Oversight and Reform Committee has broad jurisdiction to investigate anything and everything within the federal government. Climate change has been designated as a national security threat by our own Defense Department. How the government is responding to this threat can and should be a topic of interest for this committee.
ODP: At their hearing earlier this week, Republicans denied the existence of human-induced climate change and complained that the Committee did not have a witness representing this point of view, even though only 3% of scientists agree with them. How would you recommend that the Democrats deal with this issue, and is there precedent for the Democrats’ selection of witnesses on climate change?
KB: Democrats should not fall into the GOP’s trap of giving them something when the reality is it’s not going to change their approach to a proceeding like this. The functional reality of the Committee is the majority chooses the bulk of the witnesses, however, it is important to note that the minority does get to choose a witness to participate in the hearing, which they did. I don’t remember Republicans volunteering to give away an additional witness slot to the Democrats when they were in power. Quite frankly, the most responsible way to conduct a hearing like this is to have the most expert witnesses possible to provide the most information possible for the members of the Committee.
ODP: When your former boss, Rep. Darell Issa, led the Committee, the Committee made broad document requests of numerous agencies in the Obama Administration in order to conduct thorough oversight. How aggressive would you recommend that the Democrats be now that the tables are turned?
KB: I think they should be just as aggressive if not more so because during the Issa years, when I worked at the Committee, our requests centered on the possibility of wrongdoing, in the case of the Trump Administration, we know definitively that there is wrongdoing. That there is waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement throughout the entire Administration. As we said during the Obama years, the American people have a right to know what is going on inside of their government and for any wrongdoing to be exposed so it can be addressed. The best disinfectant is still sunlight, even if Republicans have completely abandoned their commitment to transparency.
ODP: At the hearing this week, the Republican and Democratic members of the Committee accused each other of politicizing the issue. Members from rural states see the Green New Deal as an existential threat. Members from urban areas see not addressing climate change the same way. Do you think Chairman Cummings can break through the partisan animosity?
KB: I’m fond of the saying, “never argue with a drunk or a fool.” Republicans are beyond reasoning with at this point. If you aren’t willing to accept the overall scientific consensus on climate change, there is no hope for you. It’s like trying to reason with someone who insists the earth is still flat. I think the best thing that Chairman Cummings can do is to continue using the Committee as a forum to shine a light on the facts and that’s exactly what I think he is doing.
ODP: You have watched the Committee for years and know what it takes for a member of it to be effective. What is your advice to the Committee’s newest members, like Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
KB: My advice is to keep doing what they are doing. They are showing up prepared, familiar with the materials and it shows. They are having some of the most stand-out moments at these hearings because they are doing the homework behind-the-scenes. They are armed with the facts to effectively counterpunch the Republicans’ efforts to distort and disrupt the hearing. As long as they keep doing the background work, they will continue to be effective.
KB: Anytime your position is on the wrong side of history, and in this case facts and science, it is not a tenable position to hold long-term. That’s where the GOP finds itself right now.
Thanks so much, Kurt, for sharing your expertise with ODP’s readers. We are lucky to get it all the time — Kurt is married to our own Miro! And to our country music fans, do check out Morning Hangover for all the latest news in Country Music!