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Democrats Walking an Oversight Tightrope

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, Sen. Charles Schumer asked Attorney General Eric Holder (above) about the Bush administration’s role in approving gun walking. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating a Justice Department operation that resulted in assault weapons getting to Mexican drug cartels.

During a recent hallway interview with Roll Call, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) stepped into an elevator that held Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

"Henry can answer this one," Issa said, directing to Waxman his remarks about Eric Schultz, the former aide to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and current spokesman for President Barack Obama on oversight matters.

"Henry and I had the same job under different presidents. And we had the same reactions from the administrations, which is: None of them want to cooperate. It's just not in their DNA," Issa said. "This is the guy I pattern my work after. He's smiling, but it's true."

"You are well-known as a poor imitation of me," Waxman deadpanned.

Issa laughed and said he "doesn't have the years of practice. I'm working on it."

Waxman, the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, once led investigations into the administration of President George W. Bush from Issa's current perch. But the switch in positions is no laughing matter when it comes to two GOP-led investigations that are aiming for the top levels of the Obama administration.

Waxman, for instance, harshly criticized Issa in a subsequent interview, saying, "I think Darrell Issa has a misunderstanding when he says he wants to model himself after me and seems to think that I was partisan. He's trying to justify his own actions."

And Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the Oversight panel, blasted Issa during a recent television appearance for launching a "witch hunt."

The two Democrats have had their hands full as House Republicans have ratcheted up their investigations into a $525 million federal loan guarantee to the now-bankrupt solar panel firm Solyndra and into the Justice Department's Operation Fast and Furious, which resulted in assault weapons making their way to Mexican drug cartels.

Waxman and Cummings have vowed to support "fair and thorough" or "fair and responsible" investigations, respectively, but balked at subpoenas, calling them a "fishing expedition" or a "deep-sea fishing expedition," respectively.

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, has highlighted the role of the Bush administration on the Solyndra loan guarantee. Cummings has highlighted the role of the Bush administration on "gun walking," the tactic at the heart of the Operation Fast and Furious matter.

On the Senate side, Schumer has also raised questions about the Bush administration's role in approving gun walking, asking Attorney General Eric Holder about it at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday.

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