Democrats in the House want to keep their mics on.
Following a brief but contentious House Oversight Committee hearing on Wednesday, senior Democrats came out Thursday to denounce the actions of committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the lawmaker who is leading numerous investigations of the Obama administration.
The issue for Democrats was the way Issa abruptly adjourned Wednesday’s hearing, where a star witness in the IRS “targeting” scandal reasserted her Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer questions. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of the committee, attempted to make a statement at the end of hearing, but ended up having to shout his points — Issa had turned off his microphone.
On Thursday, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, wrote a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on behalf of the caucus, demanding that Issa be removed as chairman of the Oversight Committee.
“As the Speaker, you are responsible for maintaining decorum and appropriate conduct in the House of Representatives and ordering the Sergeant at Arms to enforce House rules,” Fudge wrote. “We urge you to take prompt action to maintain the integrity of this body and remove Mr. Issa as chair of the Oversight & Government Reform Committee immediately.”
Things didn’t go quite so far at a press conference Thursday where Cummings and several other ranking members of House committees laid out their complaints about Issa’s actions.
“Not only were Chairman Issa’s actions an abuse of authority, they were counterproductive,” Cummings said, arguing that what he was trying to do Wednesday was find a way to get the answers that Issa sought from former IRS official Lois Lerner. “The Republicans remain fixated on falsely accusing the White House of targeting its political enemies.”
Cummings said that several Republican members of the committee had privately apologized to him for Issa’s actions.
“He shut me down because he did not want to hear what I was saying, or what he thought I would say,” Cummings said. ‘That is un-American. I’m sorry.”
And after Cummings had accused Issa and Republicans of conducting “reckless and abusive investigations,” Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), the ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, came forward to argue that in the case of the IRS scandal, which concerned the agency’s handling of applications for tax-exempt status from conservative groups, there was “zero evidence of political motivation” by the agency.
“That can’t be a protocol of this institution,” Levin said, referring to the oversight hearing. “When I saw Darrell Issa in action yesterday, I thought back of all my years here, and I think he has brought this to an unbearable crescendo. It has to stop.”
Despite Democrats protests, it does not appear Boehner has a problem with Issa’s actions. The speaker said Thursday that Issa was within his rights to adjourn the hearing.