Torture Chamber

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The NYT‘s excellent Peter Baker writes today about the silver lining for Barack Obama if the Congress should go Republican. A GOP Congress, after all, could be a useful foil for an embattled Democratic president (much as Bill Clinton stepped on the back of the Gingrich-Dole Congress as he climbed back to popularity after 1994).

The big caveat, as Baker notes toward the end of his piece, is that Republican control of Congress means the power to torment the White House through investigations, public hearings and subpoenaed officials.

But on this score, there’s a real difference between the House and Senate. If the House flips, the new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will be Darrell Issa. While Issa is pledging to pick his targets carefully to avoid overreach, he’s still a tough partisan clearly eager to make the White House squirm. By contrast, the would-be chair of a GOP Senate’s oversight panel, the Committee on Government Reform and Homeland Security, is Maine Republican Susan Collins–a low-key moderate who would be far less inclined than Issa to drag Obama staffers over the public coals.

Which is why two Democrats close to the Obama White House recently told me that if one chamber has to flip, they would prefer it be the Senate. Unfortunately for the Democrats, however, it looks extremely likely to be the other way around.