Rep. Issa: Obama 'feigns perfection' without achieving it on lobbying rules

Congressional leaders offered a chilly response to President Obama’s call for lawmakers to match the White House in publicly disclosing their meetings with lobbyists.

The Republican in charge of government reform, Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), rejected the suggestion out of hand and brushed back the president by noting reports that White House officials met with lobbyists at coffee shops to avoid their own disclosure rules.

“I think he feigns perfection without having yet achieved it,” Issa told The Hill. “I do think when the president still has his people traipsing across the street to the coffee shop so they didn’t technically meet at the White House, quite frankly he has more to do.”

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In his State of the Union address, the president said, “Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done — put that information online.”

Issa, who is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, politely suggested that Obama butt out of congressional affairs and said the House is responsible for making its rules, not the White House.

“It’s very clear that this is another body, and as much as [Obama] might want to control this body, I believe that Speaker BoehnerJohn BoehnerJuan Williams: GOP fumbles on healthcare The Hill's 12:30 Report The new dealmaking in Congress reveals an old truth: majority wins MORE is on the road to taking us to a next higher level of accountability,” Issa said. “At the same time, we have some constitutional responsibilities and rights and we expect to use those.”

Issa also dismissed the idea on its merits and said the president uses the term lobbyist “fairly indiscriminately.” At one point, the chairman asked the reporter interviewing him, “Are you a lobbyist?”

“We meet with constituents far more than we meet with lobbyists,” Issa said. “Yes, they are ‘lobbying’ for a cause, but they come because they have children with autism. They come because they’re nurses finding it difficult back home. They come with their problems. They may or may not come with a trade association rep. The vast majority of visitors to congressional offices both here and in the district, are not, I repeat, are not registered lobbyists.”

“I’m for transparency. I want to have more of it,” he added. “At the same time, if you send me a letter, that letter should not automatically be public. You have an expectation that you can address your member of Congress, and you can do so with a degree of confidentiality. It happens every day. It needs to happen every day.

“We take on a huge amount of people with veterans’ problems, people who have tax problems, people who have immigration problems,” Issa said. “Would you have us put all of that on a website, with the names? Probably not.”

Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, hit back at Issa, noting that the GOP chairman in December sent a letter to more than 100 lobbyists asking them for suggestions on federal regulations that should be relaxed.

“It doesn’t surprise me that he wouldn’t be fond of a proposal that injects transparency into who he’s meeting with,” Israel said.

Israel said he’s “all for” the president’s proposal. 

“I think people have the right to know who members of Congress are meeting with,” he said in an interview with The Hill. “That kind of transparency can never hurt.

Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerJuan Williams: GOP fumbles on healthcare The Hill's 12:30 Report The new dealmaking in Congress reveals an old truth: majority wins MORE (R-Ohio) offered no immediate response to Obama’s proposal on lobbying.

A GOP aide dismissed the idea, however: “No one will take that proposal seriously until the White House starts following their own rules." The proposal also received an unenthusiastic response from Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDems see surge of new candidates Dems to grind Senate to a halt over ObamaCare repeal fight GOP fires opening attack on Dem reportedly running for Heller's Senate seat MORE (D-Nev.).

"Sen. Reid is all for transparency, so we will take a look at it, but, it's not as easy as it sounds," spokesman Jon Summers said. "The Capitol is inherently more open to the people than the White House. On Thursdays alone, Sen. Reid holds a free breakfast that is open to any Nevadan constituent who comes to Washington. Some days we will have as many as 150 people at that one breakfast alone."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This story was updated at 1:37 p.m. and 3:08 p.m.