Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Lamar Smith (R-TX) have been attacking the Obama administration since pretty much the day Barack Obama took office. Until now, as just the ranking members of two powerful House committees and members of the minority party, their criticisms of administration officials and their decisions have been mostly limited to issuing press releases.Now — as the expected chairmen of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the House Judiciary Committee, respectively — they’re the proud new holders of subpoena power, will have a much more robust unit of investigators and will likely be a huge thorn in the side of President Obama and his top cabinet members.
Issa already laid out his agenda in a blueprint plan he released earlier this year. He told reporters in a conference call in the wee hours of Wednesday morning that his responsibility was “very broad” but that his job wasn’t to bring down Obama. “I have a lot of questions that have not been answered,” he said.
Smith, on the other, has grilled Attorney General Eric Holder over immigration enforcement — including Holder’s comments on the Arizona immigration law — as well as for his handling of terrorism trials in civilian court and the attempts to close Guantanamo Bay (“We have no speculation for you at this time on what effect the mid-term election may or may not have on this issue,” DOJ spokesman Dean Boyd told TPMMuckraker about the Gitmo issue yesterday).
Holder seems to know what he’s in for from Smith. “Lamar, will you be nice to me after January?” Holder asked the Texas Republican, Smith recalled.
“In the House Judiciary Committee, we will focus on initiatives that protect Americans and create jobs, including strengthening national security, enforcing immigration laws, protecting intellectual property, preventing frivolous lawsuits and keeping children safe from sex predators,” Smith said in a statement Wednesday.
Here are a few of the controversies you can expect to hear more about in the next two years.
1. New Black Panther Party
The New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case, which started when a college student working for the Republican party rolled up to a majority African-American polling place in Philadelphia and recorded two members of the fringe extremist group standing outside, has been a thorn in the Obama administration’s side since they decided to limit the scope of the civil case shortly after they took office. Though the administration’s Civil Rights Division obtained an injunction against the individual shown holding a billy club in the YouTube video, the controversy boiled over after conservative critics said the injunction was not strong enough and criticised DOJ for dropping the case against other members of the party.
Smith hasn’t pulled his punches on the NBPP matter, penning a column on Fox News’ site titled “Is The Justice Department Racist?” in which he wrote that the DOJ “has sent the message that voter intimidation of white voters is acceptable.” He was first successful in convincing the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility to look into the case back in September 2009. “I am determined to stay with this until the department comes clean with the American people,” he said last month. The appearance of a member of the New Black Panther Party at that same polling place in Philadelphia yesterday — though he didn’t appear to be doing anything illegal — will likely give Smith more ammunition.
2. Joe Sestak’s Job Offer
Before Joe Sestak lost a Pennsylvania Senate race to Pat Toomey last night, he beat Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary. At that time, he claimed that the Obama administration had promised him a position in the White House if he was willing to drop out of the race and defer to Specter.
Republicans pounced on the news, despite the fact that the position Sestak had been offered wasn’t a paid one, and that he didn’t end up taking it anyway. Issa went so far as to call it Obama’s “Watergate.”
“The White House…has arrogantly and wrongly assumed that they can sweep this matter under the rug,” Issa said in a campaign email sent out shortly after the scandal came to light, adding “an investigation must take place and justice must be served.” A later press release, issued by Issa, Smith, and Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee, expressed “concern” about “a meeting between former President Clinton and President Obama and reports that Rep. Sestak’s brother (and campaign manager) was consulted on the drafting of the White House report. The apparent collusion between parties involved may constitute obstruction of justice.”
But many lawyers agree the administration’s move wasn’t illegal, even George W. Bush’s Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who said it was “really a stretch” to say that the Sestak offer was a crime.
3. ACORN’s Offspring
The community organising group ACORN — a favourite target of conservatives — filed for bankruptcy yesterday. Issa has hit the group for allegations of fraud and tied the organisation to Obama. He then used his role on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to carefully examine ACORN’s funding and to convince Congress to pass a bill he authored that prevented it from receiving federal funds. Issa spokesman Kurt Bardella has left open the possibility that Issa could address the “other entities that ACORN morphed into.”
4. BP Oil Spill
Issa is likely to pursue the Obama administration’s response to the BP oil spill, as he has repeatedly questioned the effectiveness of its disaster response plan. And when the White House sent political aides to Florida to deal with the fallout and handle the aftermath, Issa accused Obama of being too concerned with his image.
“Rather than streamline the process and focus on ensuring that local officials have access to the resources they are literally begging for, the Obama administration has responded by dispatching campaign aides. It’s concerning that the West Wing appears more pre-occupied with the politics and public relations of this crisis, than actually managing it,” he said in a statement at the time.
He also launched probes and issued several reports alleging that government bureaucracy was standing in the way of relief efforts. In one report, Issa said BP’s own report on the spill “details a tragic chain of mistakes by companies, individuals, and government regulators who were trusted and paid to safely execute important work.”
And it’s been suggested that Issa has a leg to stand on when it comes to this issue. He has blown the whistle on the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service in recent years, an agency whose lax regulation may have helped contribute to the spill.
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