Should Issa lose House panel chairmanship for cutting off Cummings's mic?

Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has apologized to Rep. Elijah Cummings for cutting him off at a hearing into alleged abuses by the IRS.

Lauren Victoria Burke/AP/File
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Feb. 5. House Republicans have blocked an attempt by Democrats to chastise Issa for his conduct at a hearing after Issa abruptly adjourned a meeting of the House Oversight Committee Wednesday.

Should Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California lose his committee chairmanship because he cut off the microphone of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) of Maryland? The Congressional Black Caucus thinks so. The group has written House Speaker John Boehner demanding that Representative Issa be punished for his disrespect of Representative Cummings, who is African-American.

Issa’s action was “deplorable” and violates the rules of the House, according to the CBC letter.

“Mr. Issa is a disgrace and should not be allowed to continue in a leadership role,” wrote CBC chair Rep. Marcia Fudge (D) of Ohio.

Well, don’t buy an outfit for Issa’s going-away party. Speaker Boehner has already said he thinks Issa was within his rights to do what he did. On Thursday, the House declined to censure the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee on a party-line vote.

Issa himself has apologized to Cummings. He called and said he was sorry about cutting off the Maryland Democrat at the end of an abbreviated hearing into alleged abuses by the Internal Revenue Service. Cummings has accepted this outstretched hand, saying in a statement, “My sincere hope is that as we move forward, we will respect the opinions of all members of the committee.”

Let’s hope that happens. But the fact of the matter is that the IRS investigation is flammable material into which Issa has thrown a match. Partisan disagreements will arise again soon on this committee, and the subject of the dead mike could well arise again. Our prediction: There will be shouting.

In part, this is because Issa has handed Democrats an issue with which to call into question his IRS assertions. For months, Issa and Republicans have been looking into the question of whether the IRS unfairly targeted for extra scrutiny conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. Democrats say the probe is a witch hunt – that liberal groups were targeted, too, and that the committee has no evidence that higher officials or even the White House ordered a crackdown on right-leaning organizations.

Former IRS official Lois Lerner is a potentially key witness in this regard. She ran the office that did the vetting; presumably she’d know if it was done because of administration pressure. But she has clammed up, claiming Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. She did so again on Wednesday, after which a frustrated Issa attempted to end the hearing, Cummings attempted to speak, and Issa pulled the plug.

In that moment, Issa may have undermined his own credibility. Even some House Republicans are frustrated with his actions, according to a report in The Hill.

“Every chairperson has their own way of working with the minority," Rep. Frank Lucas (R) of Oklahoma, chairman of the Agriculture Committee, told The Hill. "Clearly, Darrell has his own unique style.” (To be clear, Representative Lucas was not directly criticizing his colleague’s actions.)

But now, some of the spotlight here has shifted from Ms. Lerner to Issa himself. And she will be back, or at least, the subject of what to do about her will return. Republicans believe she waived her right to Fifth Amendment protection by making an opening statement during her initial committee appearance.

The Oversight Committee could vote on a contempt resolution for Lerner soon, perhaps even next week. If it does, expect Democrats to try to deflect attention onto what they claim is Issa’s autocratic and unpredictable leadership – and bring up the mike incident as evidence of their assertions.

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