Let’s be honest, Congressman Darrell Issa is no stranger to behavior that is, well, over the top. But the recent skirmish with Congressman Elijah Cummings is revealing in a completely different nature.
First, a little background on Issa. He is a Republican who has represented an area of southern California, in heavily conservative terrain around the San Diego coast. He is a Republican who has developed something of a reputation of a bullying zealot, determined to find fault in anything done by Democrats and, most specifically, by President Obama.
Nothing is too strong for Issa, when it comes to denunciations. He has accused the Obama administration of everything — even homicide when he comes to the events in recent years in Benghazi.
Just this week, Issa decided that he would not allow one of his colleagues to speak in a congressional hearing on alleged abuses at the Internal Revenue Service. This time, the California congressman’s truculence and belligerence became far too obvious to ignore. He decided to silence the microphone of the ranking Democratic member of the committee chaired by Issa, an effort meant to render Congressman Elijah Cummings to irrelevance.
Of course, Cummings, who represents Baltimore, was outraged, as were his fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which promptly called for his removal as chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge, the Ohio Democrat who chairs the Caucus, introduced a resolution to “strongly” condemn “the offensive and disrespectful manner” in which Issa conducted his committee.
Issa’s initial reaction was especially telling. In an interview with his soul mates at Fox, the congressman said that the response of Cummings was nothing more than a “pre-staged event,” and relegated his fellow congressman’s behavior to the insult as “quite a hissy fit.”
But the storm clouds would simply not go away as the story began to spread of a pugnacious conservative Republican seeking to disenfranchise a Black congressman from having a voice. And so, Issa issued an apology.
Nonetheless, the issue illustrates again, not just how cantankerous Issa’s behavior can be, but also how difficult it is for conservative Republicans to offer anything beyond meaningless lip service about their desire to become more inclusive and attract more people of color into their ranks. The first step, which they often fail to master, is to start to consider the nation’s African-American and Latino citizens as their equal. Humiliating an African-American fellow member of Congress is not a positive step in that direction.
It’s a test that Issa has sorely failed.
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(Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)