What Is a House Resolution of Inquiry?

By Kevin R. Kosar

Politico reports:

"Seeking to avoid a full House vote on the so-called “resolution of inquiry” — a roll call that would be particularly embarrassing and divisive for the right — Republicans will send proposal by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) to the House Judiciary Committee for a panel vote on Tuesday, two Democratic sources said. The GOP-controlled committee is expected to kill the resolution. Without committee action, obscure parliamentary procedures would allow Democrats to call the resolution to the floor for a vote by the full House. But rejection by the Judiciary panel all but assures the measure will never see a floor vote."

As the Congressional Research Service explains in a primer on the subject: 

"The resolution of inquiry is a simple House resolution that seeks factual information from the executive branch. Such resolutions are given privileged status under House rules and may be considered at any time after being properly reported or discharged from committee. Such resolutions apply only to requests for facts—not opinions—within an Administration’s control."

The resolution of inquiry is a powerful tool, but one whose use waxes and wanes. In a separate report, CRS notes:

"Between 1947 and 2011, 290 resolutions of inquiry were introduced in the House of Representatives. Two periods in particular, 1971-1975 and 2003-2006, saw the highest levels of activity on resolutions of inquiry during [1947-2011]. Although nearly every standing House committee has been referred at least one resolution of inquiry during the post-World War II period, the Committees on Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and the Judiciary have received the largest share of references because the most commonly sought information has related to defense, foreign relations, and intelligence. Most resolutions of inquiry are directed to the President himself, but other executive branch officials have been the subject of such information requests as well."