Schumer taps Warren aide for new coronavirus oversight commission

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer will appoint Bharat Ramamurti, a former Elizabeth Warren aide, to a newly created panel meant to police the Trump administration’s handling of a $500 billion coronavirus relief fund.

Schumer described Ramamurti Monday as “ferocious in his desire to protect the public from abuse.”

“I’m confident that Bharat’s experience and his desire to protect the public will ensure robust accountability, oversight [and] transparency in the Treasury and Federal Reserve’s loan programs,” Schumer said on a call with reporters.

Ramamurti was a top economic adviser to Warren during the Massachusetts Democrat’s presidential campaign, as well as senior counsel for banking and economic policy in her personal Senate office.

Schumer is the first congressional leader to make an appointment to the five-member panel, which was established in the $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy are each expected to make picks as well, with McConnell and Pelosi directed to jointly pick the chair of the panel.

There's no time frame for the leaders to make their selections, though the commission is due to issue a report within 30 days of Treasury's first distribution of cash from the fund for distressed industries.

The congressional oversight commission is meant to provide a real-time check on the administration's handling of the massive pot, and its work will be parallel to a newly created inspector general for pandemic recovery housed in the Treasury Department. President Donald Trump last week nominated Brian Miller, a White House attorney and former General Services Administration inspector general, to that post, which requires Senate confirmation.

Though some government transparency advocates praised the Miller pick, others — including Pelosi and Schumer — panned the selection of a lawyer involved in defending Trump to a post that requires independence from the White House.

“The person who is inspector general should be independent without fear or favor,” Schumer said. “Somebody who comes from the president’s counsel’s office doesn’t seem to meet that bill. I’m willing to listen to and hear what he has to say but color me dubious that that is the right type of person for somebody of this level of strength and independence.”

The new law also established a council of federal watchdogs to oversee the administration's implementation of the coronavirus relief effort. That two dozen-member panel is being chaired by Glenn Fine, the Pentagon's acting inspector general.

Trump's decision to unceremoniously remove intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson on Friday — which the president later attributed to Atkinson's handling of a whistleblower report that led to his impeachment — has raised alarms on Capitol Hill about whether he intends to meddle in the work of other inspectors general.

Schumer emphasized that his concerns over the Miller nomination heightened the significance of the congressional commission, since it is set up in the legislative branch and is not answerable to Trump.

Trump, however, has also indicated he doesn't intend to honor some of the law's requirements that his administration be compelled to share certain internal details with Congress, raising the prospect of future battles between the White House and lawmakers.

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