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Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have a message for the White House: Stop sending your witnesses to our hearings.
In the latest outbreak of partisan fighting on the Committee, Rep. Gerry Connolly said he plans to ask the White House to decline requests from committee Republicans to testify at hearings because they are "being used" to blocking the minority from choosing its own witnesses.
"I'm going to ask the administration, and I believe others on our side are going to do the same, that until this issue is resolved they should refrain from participation," the Virginia Democrat said in an interview. "They're being used. ... They should not be interposing themselves in an internal issue here in the House."
The objection comes in response to what Democrats said is a new committee policy employed at a contentious Oversight and Government Reform Subcommitte on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Procurement Reform hearing on government contracts Friday morning.
Democrats said the majority sent a May 25 email to the minority stating that any White House witnesses would be designated as minority witnesses.
Connolly, the subcommittee's ranking member, said he wanted to call University of Utah professor Peter Phillips to raise issues with a bill that would prohibit federal agencies from awarding construction projects based on contractors' use of labor agreements.
Instead, Republicans called Daniel Gordon, of the Office of Management and Budget, and David Foley, of the General Services Administration, to testify in favor of the bill, then deemed them minority witnesses, Connolly said.
"This is the worst of Stalinist suppression of thought," Connolly said. "It's going to lead to very significant division on the committee. This is taking it way too far in terms of the trampling of minority rights."
Democrats said the policy runs counter to House rules, which state that minority members are "entitled" to "call witnesses selected by the minority to testify."
Frederick Hill, spokesman for Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said Democrats are trying to obstruct the committee's work by asking White House witnesses not to participate.
"Not only are they trying to obstruct, but they're distorting the facts of the matter," Hill said. "The rule is that the minority may request a witness to the chairman of the committee and the chairman of the committee ultimately requests the witnesses."
In the case of the subcommittee, Chairman James Lankford (R-Okla.) "felt that this was already a full hearing and it fully included the views of the minority," Hill said.
Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings said the "extreme edict" sets a "dangerous precedent" that "undermines the integrity of our committee."
"They call the witnesses for whatever purpose and we are placed in a position where we are then denied any witnesses," the Maryland Democrat said. "The issue is the ability to call witnesses to give the other side of the story."
Cummings, together with Connolly and the six other subcommittee ranking members, sent a letter to Issa on Friday objecting to this policy and its other provision, which states that the minority must designate witnesses within 24 hours of a hearing being announced.
"It is fundamentally absurd to demand that we identify minority witnesses before you have identified witnesses yourself, yet your new policy does just that," the letter states.
Republicans and Democrats on the committee have been at odds over many issues since the beginning of the 112th Congress.