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Don McGahn. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

A D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled 2-1 on Monday that House Democrats do not have the legal authority to enforce a subpoena against former White House counsel Don McGahn.

Why it matters: The majority opinion deals a severe blow to the House's investigative power, ruling that Congress must pass a law in order to enforce subpoenas in court. House Democrats on Monday immediately said they would appeal the decision and ask the full appeals court to rehear the case.

  • "This wrong-headed Court of Appeals panel ruling threatens to strike a grave blow to one of the most fundamental Constitutional roles of the Congress: to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people, including by issuing our lawful and legitimate subpoenas," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

The big picture: Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have fought a lengthy battle to question McGahn — one of the most important witnesses in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation — regarding President Trump's alleged attempts to obstruct justice.

What they're saying: "Because the Committee lacks a cause of action to enforce its subpoena, this lawsuit must be dismissed," the majority opinion reads.

  • "We note that this decision does not preclude Congress (or one of its chambers) from ever enforcing a subpoena in federal court; it simply precludes it from doing so without first enacting a statute authorizing such a suit."
  • "If Congress (rather than a single committee in a single chamber thereof) determines that its current mechanisms leave it unable to adequately enforce its subpoenas, it remains free to enact a statute that makes the House’s requests for information judicially enforceable."

The other side: "[T]he Supreme Court has explained that the powers of Congress enumerated in the Article I of the Constitution imply not only a right to information but also a right to seek judicial enforcement of its subpoena," one of the appeals judges wrote in a dissenting opinion.

The bottom line: The case will continue to be delayed and McGahn will, for the moment, not be forced to testify.

Read the ruling.

Go deeper

Republicans block inaugural committee from recognizing Biden win

From left, Steny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi, Roy Blunt, Mitch McConnell, Amy Klobuchar. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Republicans on the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies voted against a resolution that would have affirmed the committee was preparing for the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: By voting against the resolution, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy effectively blocked the committee from publicly recognizing Biden as president-elect.

Biden picks Warren allies to lead SEC, CFPB

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has selected FTC commissioner Rohit Chopra to be the next director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Obama-era Wall Street regulator Gary Gensler to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Why it matters: Both picks are progressive allies of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and viewed as likely to take aggressive steps to regulate big business.

The perils of organizing underground

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Researchers see one bright spot as far-right extremists turn to private and encrypted online platforms: Friction.

Between the lines: For fringe organizers, those platforms may provide more security than open social networks, but they make it harder to recruit new members.