Democrats condemn Issa as he considers contempt charge for Lerner

(AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
(AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

Democrats are calling for strong action against House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) after he ended a hearing without input from Democrats and silenced the microphone of the panel’s ranking member.

The Congressional Black Caucus on Thursday issued a letter calling for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to strip Issa of his chairmanship and force him to apologize on the House floor for his behavior.

Also on Thursday, top Democrats from various House committees held a news conference to condemn Republicans for an alleged “abuse of power” that involves “obstructing the legislative process, shutting out Democrats for political gain and ignoring the priorities of the American people.”

The moves come in response to a tense hearing on Wednesday in which former IRS official Lois Lerner declined to answer questions about how the IRS developed its policies for screening politically-oriented advocacy groups that apply for tax-exempt status. An inspector general’s report said the agency targeted certain groups for extra scrutiny based on their policy positions. Republicans have suggested the actions were politically motivated — an attempt to hinder President Obama’s critics during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles.

Issa abruptly adjourned the hearing on Wednesday after Lerner responded to 10 questions by invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to testify. The chairman also cut off the microphone of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the panel’s ranking member, as he objected to ending the proceedings and tried to weigh in with questions of his own.

Boehner said Wednesday that Lerner should testify about the IRS matter or be held in contempt. Issa told Fox News that he is discussing the possibility of such a charge with Republican members of the committee, adding that they could “consider doing it as early as next week.”

Issa’s term as chairman of the oversight panel expires after the current congressional session ends on Jan. 3.  He cannot lead the committee again unless Boehner grants a rare waiver to the rules, although he could head another committee.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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