Rep. Elijah Cummings, always a gracious legislator, declined to say whether he felt disrespected after Republican Rep. Darrell Issa rudely turned off Cummings’ microphone during a congressional hearing this week. Issa, perhaps the most contentious Republican on Capitol Hill, ignored Cummings, abruptly adjourned the hearing, turned his back on Cummings, and stormed out of the room.
So since Cummings won’t say it, I’ll say it for him: Issa’s behavior was the height of disrespect toward Cummings and a new low for Issa, who seems to relish insulting and denigrating black politicians.
Simply put, Issa owes Cummings an apology.
The confrontation between Issa and Cummings became heated Wednesday during a congressional hearing where Lois Lerner, a former senior official at the Internal Revenue Service, was testifying about the IRS controversy over the targeting of conservative groups. Issa is Chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee.
But during a discussion over a procedural question, Issa said the hearing was abruptly adjourned and told the committee staff to “close it down.” Issa looked at Cummings, ignored him, and adjourned the hearing by slamming the gavel.
“Mr. Chairman? Mr. Chairman? Mr. Chairman?” Cummings yelled.
“We’ve adjourned,” Issa said.
As a journalist who has covered politics for many years, I have watched Cummings earn his reputation as a gentleman legislator. Cummings is always polite, gracious and good-natured. But he’s no pushover – and he will fire back when necessary.
“Mr. Chairman, you cannot run a committee like this,” Cummings shouted. “We’re better than that as a committee. I have asked for a few minutes to ask a procedural — ” “The fact is I am asking a question. I am the ranking member of this committee and I want to ask a question! What are we hiding? What’s the big deal? May I ask my question? May I make my statement?”
“I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America! I am tired of this!” Cummings shouted. “You cannot just have a one-sided investigation…”It is absolutely un-American.”
Issa didn’t give Cummings a second look. His behavior was deplorable. In fact, it was so extreme that Rep. Marcia Fudge, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, is standing with Cummings and calling for Issa to be removed as chairman of his committee.
In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, (R-Ohio), Fudge said the American people have the right to expect that their elected leaders be held to the highest possible standards of conduct.
“Congressman Darrell Issa of California abused his authority and therefore must be reprimanded to ensure the dignity of the House of Representatives is preserved,” Fudge wrote. “On behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus and the people we represent, I urge you to take immediate action to address the recent deplorable conduct of Oversight & Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa. Under the applicable Rules of the House, we strongly encourage you to take disciplinary action against Mr. Issa and force him to present himself before the American people on the House floor with an apology.”
“Mr. Issa is a disgrace and should not be allowed to continue in a leadership role,” she added. “We urge you to take prompt action to maintain the integrity of this body and remove Mr. Issa as chair of the Oversight & Government Reform Committee immediately.”
On Keeping it Real with Rev. Al Sharpton, a nationally-syndicated radio program, Fudge said Issa “disgraced and dishonored” the House of Representatives “and he should be held accountable.”
“His behavior was egregious,” Fudge said. “None of us want to work in an environment where we are not treated with respect.”
Rep. Fudge is right. Issa should be disciplined and he owes Cummings a public apology.
But I won’t hold my breath.