House Democratic leaders are amplifying their attacks on Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) a day after the Oversight Committee chairman cut short a rowdy hearing examining political targeting at the Internal Revenue Service.
The Democrats charge that Issa not only violated House rules, but also undermined the workings of democracy, when he cut the microphone on Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.) as the panel's senior Democrat tried to speak.
"What happened was so outrageous, so demeaning, so un-judicial, so awful in every respect, that we just absolutely have reached a boiling point," Rep. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), senior Democrat on the House Rules Committee, said during a press briefing in the Capitol.
Cummings accused Issa of staging a politically motivated attack on the Obama administration without allowing the Democrats to respond — a dynamic he characterized as "un-American."
"Basically, what happened yesterday is Chairman Issa wanted to hold a hearing, and then shut it down before the Democrats could [utter] one syllable. There's definitely something wrong with that picture," Cummings said. "It is un-American, it is unfair, and I reminded Chairman Issa that each one of my colleagues on the Democratic side, we too are elected by 700,000 people, and they deserve a voice."
Wednesday's Oversight Committee hearing was the latest in a months-long GOP investigation into whether the IRS targeted groups and individuals for extra scrutiny based on their political beliefs. Appearing before the panel was Lois Lerner, a former IRS official at the center of the controversy, who invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
After Lerner refused to answer a series of questions from Issa, the chairman quickly adjourned the hearing, prompting a loud protest from Cummings, who sat beside him on the dais.
In response, Issa cut off Cummings’s microphone, while Republicans hurried out of the hearing room.
Issa has defended his conduct, saying he acted according to the committee rules and accusing Cummings of “slandering” him by criticizing the investigation. Just hours later, in response to Democratic calls for him to apologize, Issa suggested the Democrats should be doing the apologizing for Cummings's "inappropriate" behavior.
On Thursday, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) stood squarely behind Issa, saying he "was within his rights to adjourn the hearing when he did."
“Darrell Issa is the chairman. He’s done an effective job as chairman. I support him,” Boehner told reporters in the Capitol.
Still, the focus on Issa's actions is a vexing inconvenience for Boehner and the Republicans, who would much rather be talking about the IRS investigation and Lerner's refusal to testify as a part of it.
It's a shift in dynamics that the Democrats are only happy to encourage. Indeed, the Democrats' response to Wednesday's hearing has already included a letter to Issa asking for an apology, a letter to Boehner asking to remove Issa's gavel and a privileged resolution, which was offered on the House floor Thursday, calling for the condemnation of Issa's "offensive and disrespectful" conduct.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, said the resolution was filed "because of the egregious violation of the House rules and the abuse of process" by Issa.
"Yes, there's a majority, but the majority has to play by the rules in order to protect democracy," Van Hollen said. "And what you saw yesterday was an incredible violation of those rules."
Cummings said he has not spoken directly to Issa since Wednesday's hearing, but "a number" of Republicans on the Oversight panel have approached him anonymously to apologize for Issa's actions.
"[They] said to me, 'Don't tell him, but I apologize. You shouldn't have been treated that way,' " Cummings said. "A number of them."