Congratulations to Devin Nunes on his re-election. Congratulations mixed with condolences. Because his days as a powerful and influential congressman are over.
Even though Nunes defeated challenger Andrew Janz to retain his District 22 seat, he was also among the biggest losers in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
The Republicans are no longer the majority party in the House of Representatives, meaning Nunes must brace himself for his reduced place in the new pecking order.
Our local congressman’s power on Capitol Hill, as described by Fresno State political science professor Thomas Holyoke, “will be greatly diminished.”
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For starters, Nunes will no longer be chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. When Congress reconvenes that gavel will almost certainly pass to Democrat Adam Schiff, Nunes’ one-time collaborator turned fierce adversary.
Every political pundit from Woodlake to Washington, D.C. can read the scoreboard. Democrats will have full subpoena power to investigate President Donald Trump’s financial ties to Russia and how Russian meddling impacted the 2016 election, and there’s nothing Nunes can do about it.
During Trump’s first two years in office, Nunes used his chairman’s clout to protect the president and withhold any potentially damaging information from public scrutiny. He buried evidence, concealed transcripts and stymied every attempt at transparency.
That ends today. Congress will finally be able to probe whether Russia holds any leverage over Trump through his business interests. Instead of a lap dog, the committee can get back to being a watchdog.
Being the savvy politician he is, Nunes saw this coming. That’s why he told donors a couple months ago, in secretly recorded audio obtained by MSNBC, that unless Republicans retain control of the House, “This all goes away.”
I’m guessing Devin isn’t feeling much satisfaction from being proven correct.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence used to be known for harmony and internal cooperation. In the words of Politico, it “has enjoyed a reputation as a quietly effective protector of national secrets and security.”
Then Nunes came along and torched that reputation -- while damaging Congress’ relationship with the Department of Justice and intelligence community — with his distinct brand of partisan hackery.
Nunes made things so divisive that he literally had a wall built to separate the cubicles of staff members who serve Republican members of the committee from those who serve Democrats.
Which is why the words “bipartisan” or “cooperation” can never exit Nunes’ mouth. He’d probably get laughed out of the room.
Now the question on a lot of minds is how Nunes will cope with this new reality. Will he serve out a ninth term, or accept a position in the Trump administration?
If Nunes takes the escape hatch, no one should be the least bit surprised. Because it would only confirm what Nunes’ critics have been saying all along, that he abandoned his constituents to be Trump’s chump.
“What we know about Trump is that Trump values loyalty over everything, loyalty to Trump,” Holyoke said. “And what Trump wants to see in his supporters is a full-throated aggressive defense of all things that Trump does. Well, it’s easy to argue that Nunes has done that.”
There is another option available to Nunes, one I’d hope he might consider: Be our congressman. Set aside your political ambitions and get back to working for us.
Instead of gallivanting all over the place, either in the name of national security or the almighty donor dollar, spend more time in the Valley addressing the issues that affect the people who live here.
A radical suggestion, I know.
That might entail Nunes actually visiting the Clovis office that’s nothing more than a mail drop. It might involve holding public forums about water, immigration and air quality or reigniting the idea of making Highway 99 part of the interstate highway system. Instead of fleeing when approached at a coffee shop, maybe try to engage.
Who knows? Nunes might even find some common ground with those he loves to demonize. Even the journalists he attacks with 40-page mailers full of half truths, misrepresentations and lies.
I realize none of that is likely to happen. History tells us people who get drunk with power continue to act drunk even after that power is taken away. Nunes probably enjoys being a Fox News darling too much to tone down the rhetoric, roll up his sleeves and become an effective policy maker.
All of that is conjecture and speculation. The only certainty is Nunes will return to Capitol Hill in a greatly diminished capacity. He can no longer stymie the Russia investigation or shield Trump from political harm. He’s just another backbencher.
But the votes are in, and Nunes remains our congressman. Is it too much to hope for him to start acting that way?