Updated 2:23 p.m. | The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus brought a resolution to the floor Thursday condemning Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa and asked Speaker John A. Boehner to take his gavel, after Issa cut off Rep. Elijah E. Cummings' microphone at a hearing Wednesday.
Flanked by CBC colleagues and other Democrats, Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, stood on the House floor to introduce a privileged resolution condemning the California Republican for the "offensive and disrespectful manner in which [he] conducted the hearing" and for "turn[ing] off the microphones of the Ranking Member while he was speaking and adjourn[ing] the hearing without a vote or a unanimous consent agreement.
Within hours, the House voted on party lines to shelve the resolution , with Republicans lining up to back Issa.
Cummings, a CBC member and the top Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was attempting to ask a procedural question and deliver general remarks at a resumption of a May 2013 hearing to question IRS official Lois Lerner, who again declined to answer questions by citing her Fifth Amendment rights.
Issa's refusal to allow the Maryland Democrat to engage has set off a new chapter in a running feud between the two senior lawmakers on the panel.
This time, however, Democrats are taking it personally. In addition to the CBC privileged resolution, Fudge sent a letter to Boehner asking that Issa be removed from his chairmanship.
But the Ohio Republican issued a strong defense of Issa Thursday morning at his weekly press conference. “Darrell Issa is the chairman, he’s done an effective job as chairman and I support him,” Boehner said. “The issue here is our effort to try to get the truth of the abuse by the IRS ofgroups around the country that some in the administration don’t agree with. From what I understand, I think Mr. Issa was within his rights to adjourn the hearing when he did.”
Ranking members of various House committees gathered for a news conference of their own complaining of a pattern of abuse of power by GOP chairmen.
Rep. Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, was taken aback by Boehner's comments when asked by a reporter.
"He said that the chairman was in his rights or something like that? That can't be the protocol of this institution," Levin said. "When I saw Darrell Issa in action yesterday I thought back on all my years here and I think he has brought to an unbearable crescendo. It has to stop. The privileged resolution was filed today. I hope it can be brought up and I hope the Republicans will decide that there is some waters' edge to politics."
Rules Committee Ranking Member Louise M. Slaughter, D-N.Y., called the incident "so outrageous, so demeaning, so unjudicial, so awful that we absolutely have reached a boiling point."
Cummings said on Wednesday that he did not want to venture into a narrative of personal disrespect, and on Thursday he reiterated that position. His real frustration with Issa's behavior, he said, had to do with what he referred to as Issa's apparent disinterest in listening to the Democratic perspective because it ran counter to what Republicans' wanted to hear, thus leading him to shut off the microphone.
Issa said yesterday that Cummings owes him an apology , to which Cummings offered a pointed reply.
"I can tell you this: A number of Republican members on our committee have come up to me and said, 'Don't tell him, but I apologize. You should not have been treated that way,'" Cummings told reporters. "A number of them."
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., backed the resolution Thursday afternoon at her weekly press conference.
"I can't see how Republicans wouldn't be running forward to disassociate themselves from such behavior," she said. "You would think they would be heading to the hills."
As for how Boehner justified his defense of Issa at his own press conference earlier Thursday, Pelosi said, "He must be under a lot of pressure if he thinks what Darrell Issa did was okay, because it's not."
Asked whether Pelosi thought Issa's attitude towards Cummings had anything to do with race, Pelosi demurred.
"I know in the Congressional Black Caucus there's concern because on previous occasions such as this it was when Mr. [Charles B. Rangel] was ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee and you recall Bill Thomas crying on the House floor apologizing for what he did," she said.
That infamous 2003 incident involved former Ways and Means Chairman Thomas, R-Calif., calling the Capitol Police to oust Rangel from an annex adjacent to the committee room where he was protesting legislative business.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney also called the incident "inappropriate" and said members of the minority should have the right to speak.
The full resolution is below:
PRIVILEGED RESOLUTION AGAINST THE OFFENSIVE ACTIONS OF CHAIRMAN DARRELL E. ISSA Whereas on March 5, 2014, during a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa gave a statement and then posed ten questions to former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner, who stated that she was invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to testify; Whereas the Committee’s Ranking Member, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, clearly sought recognition to take his turn for questions under Committee and House Rules; Whereas, Chairman Issa then unilaterally adjourned the hearing and refused to allow him to make any statement or ask any questions; Whereas Ranking Member Cummings protested immediately, stating: “Mr. Chairman, you cannot run a Committee like this. You just cannot do this. This is, we are better than that as a country, we are better than that as a Committee.” Whereas, Chairman Issa then returned and allowed Ranking Member Cummings to begin his statement, but when it became clear that Chairman Issa did not want to hear what Ranking Member Cummings was saying, turned off Ranking Member Cummings’ microphone, ordered Republican staff to “close it down,” and repeatedly signaled to end the hearing with his hand across his neck; Whereas Ranking Member Cummings objected again, stating: “You cannot have a one-sided investigation. There is absolutely something wrong with that.”; Whereas Chairman Issa made a statement of his own and posed questions during the hearing, but refused to allow other members of the Committee, and in particular the Ranking Member who had sought recognition, to make statements under the five-minute rule in violation of House Rule XI; Whereas Chairman Issa instructed the microphones be turned off and adjourned the hearing without a vote or a unanimous consent agreement in violation of Rule XVI because he did not want to permit Ranking Member Cummings to speak; Whereas Chairman Issa’s abusive behavior on March 5 is part of a continuing pattern in which he has routinely excluded members of the Committee from investigative meetings, and has routinely provided information to the press before sharing it with Committee members; Whereas Chairman Issa has violated Clause 1 of Rule XXIII of the Code of Official Conduct which states that “A Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer or employee of the House shall behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House”: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives strongly condemns the offensive and disrespectful manner in which Chairman Darrell E. Issa conducted the hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on March 5, 2014, during which he turned off the microphones of the Ranking Member while he was speaking and adjourned the hearing without a vote or a unanimous consent agreement.Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.