Staff issues have also slowed Issa’s progress. In addition to having to fill several positions going into the majority, he lost one of his primary investigative staffers, Jennifer Safavian, who departed for the Ways and Means Committee in December. Issa also faced public embarrassment when he had to fire Kurt Bardella, press secretary and confidant, after allegations surfaced that Bardella inappropriately shared reporters’ emails with a New York Times reporter.
Those issues came as Issa and his Democratic counterpart, ranking member Elijah Cummings (Md.), were frequently sparring over organizing the committee and on Issa’s handling of subpoenas.
More recently, though, Issa appears to be trying to distance himself from the bomb thrower he had been and is instead presenting himself as a studious, serious investigator of malfeasance.
One Congressional investigations lawyer said that Issa’s approach of publicly saying he is “‘going to be the green eyeshades accountant,’ doesn’t make for a very exciting committee.”
“The net effect is there isn’t a lot for the outside world to pay attention to,” the lawyer said.
That doesn’t mean the White House hasn’t been paying attention to Issa. In addition to hiring lawyers to deal with the zealous Republican investigations, the administration recently hired former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Eric Schultz to focus on the work of Issa’s committee.
Supporters of the California Republican argue he is taking the work of the committee seriously and that Democrats have tried to make him into a larger-than-life character in an attempt to undercut anything the panel produces.
For their part, Democrats have criticized Issa for holding repetitive hearings. At least six of the Oversight panel’s hearings focused on topics that other committees examined weeks before. For example, Issa held a health care waiver hearing one month after the Energy and Commerce Committee held a similar hearing.
Rep. Henry Waxman criticized Republicans’ oversight efforts as being political and not focused on real abuses by the government.
“[Their strategy] seems to be attacking the administration rather than looking at issues and evaluating whether the government is doing what it should be doing,” the California Democrat said.
Waxman, who served as chairman of the panel during George W. Bush’s presidency, had a waste, fraud and abuse agenda. During the first several months of his chairmanship, Waxman garnered major headlines when he took on mismanagement of nearly $9 billion in the reconstruction of Iraq and the defense contractor Blackwater USA.
“It would truly be stunning if a Member of the other side publicly had something laudatory to say about the chairman on the Republican side,” the South Carolina lawmaker said. “To me it was so transparent because if Mr. Issa were going faster then, ‘He’s giving short shrift.’ He’s going slow so you know it’s ‘a rocky, tumultuous start.’ There is no way to win.”