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September 3, 2014

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July 22, 2014

Chaffetz on Oversight: More Results, Less Confrontation

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Chaffetz, R-Utah, would be among only a handful of House members who have earned a full chairmanship in less than five terms. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In the past 89 years, there have been four members of Congress who became committee chairmen in their fourth term. Rep. Jason Chaffetz is trying to become the fifth.

Chaffetz hasn’t even banked six full years in the House yet. But with Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa term-limited after this session, the 47-year-old Utah Republican is making a bid to head the chamber’s most powerful investigatory panel.

Like his top rival for the gavel, Michael Turner of Ohio, Chaffetz says he wants to move Oversight in a new direction. But Chaffetz, like Issa, still wants to go “full throttle” on the executive branch.

“I’m very grateful to Darrell Issa,” Chaffetz told CQ Roll Call. “He’s been very good to me, he’s given me a great opportunity, but we’d all do things a little bit differently.” Full story

July 14, 2014

In Race for Oversight Chairmanship, Turner Lays Out Different Direction

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Turner wants to be Issa’s successor as Oversight and Government Reform chairman. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Under California Republican Darrell Issa, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has been the Obama administration’s No. 1 enemy on Capitol Hill, with high-profile hearings on everything from Benghazi to the IRS, to Operation Fast and Furious.

That kind of oversight is part of the committee’s job, according to Rep. Michael R. Turner, an Ohio Republican who is one of the leading candidates to succeed the term-limited Issa as chairman.

But the panel known on the Hill simply as “Oversight” also has the word “reform” in its title, Turner noted. And that aspect of the committee’s mission, he said, will be more of a focus if he takes over the chairmanship.

“I enjoy fixing things,” the six-term congressman said during a sit-down interview in his Rayburn office on July 10. And beyond government waste and inefficiency, one of the things he wants to fix is a committee that “can use some reform itself.” Full story

July 8, 2014

A Tale of Two Congressional Visits to the Southwest Border

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Lofgren had a different experience visiting the U.S.-Mexico border than her GOP colleagues. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 5:30 p.m. | House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., touted his delegation’s fact-finding trip to the Texas border last week as bipartisan, but lawmakers from both parties arrived back in Washington Tuesday as divided on immigration as ever.

According to Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Democrats and Republicans went their separate ways on least three of the delegation’s stops along the border, where local, state and federal officials are struggling to deal with a surge of immigrant minors — many of them unaccompanied — attempting to enter the country illegally.

“I honestly think they were looking for an opportunity to confirm … without any data, that somehow this is Obama’s fault,” Lofgren said of the Republicans on the trip.

Lofgren’s comments to CQ Roll Call on Monday came several days after Goodlatte told reporters he saw “some aspects we can work with on a bipartisan basis,” but acknowledged that Democrats ultimately “view this issue differently than we do.”

Lofgren said she and the other Democrats from the Judiciary Committee delegation — Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Joe Garcia of Florida — invited Goodlatte and the participating Republicans — Darrell Issa of California and Blake Farenthold of Texas — to three meetings that she said would have given them more information to bring back to Washington, D.C.

Goodlatte and Issa — the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee — declined, with Farenthold agreeing to tag along on a visit to a refugee assistance program being facilitated by Catholic volunteers.

Goodlatte spokeswoman Jessica Collins told CQ Roll Call the differences in itineraries were not intended as slights: “The trip was scheduled for partial days on both Wednesday and Thursday in order to accommodate members traveling from different parts of the country. Both Democrats and Republicans added additional visits to the trip for Wednesday. Democrats who arrived early on Wednesday morning made their own arrangements for visits.”

The wide gap in perspectives on the cause and effect of the border surge may not have been bridged by a more collaborative trip to Texas last week, given how political the debate has become. Ultimately, Democrats want to help the president address the crisis, while Republicans are inclined to blame him for its escalation.

That continues to be the case on Capitol Hill this week, as lawmakers confront whether to greenlight President Barack Obama’s $3.8 billion request to bolster border resources and alleviate some of the chaos there.

House Democrats — Lofgren among them — might have chafed at the proposal had Obama included a provision giving Homeland Security officials more discretion to deport immigrant children apprehended at the border, but absent that language, they stand ready to assist.

“My basic response is, this is a reasonable request and the House of Representatives, the United States Senate, will respond positively to it,” Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday. “I hope that’s the case.”

House Republicans are more noncommittal. Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers of Kentucky said his committee would “take a close and thorough look.”

Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, whom Speaker John A. Boehner has appointed to lead a GOP “working group” to advise leadership on the border crisis, said the task force will meet Wednesday to discuss the larger issues surrounding the president’s proposal, with a goal of updating the whole conference next week.

Boehner, through a spokesman, suggested he was peeved that Obama’s funding request did not authorize the National Guard to “provide humanitarian support in affected areas.”

And other Republicans don’t want to do anything at all. Goodlatte put out a statement saying the crisis remains Obama’s to fix.

“President Obama created this disaster at our southern border and now he is asking to use billions of taxpayer dollars without accountability or a plan in place to actually stop the border crisis,” he said.

Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and Goodlatte’s predecessor at the helm of the Judiciary Committee, was more blunt: “Congress shouldn’t give President Obama a single penny until we see him use the current resources to secure the border, increase interior enforcement, and reduce illegal immigration.”

Goodlatte and Issa implied their findings at the border would bolster the GOP response in Congress regarding the child migrant border surge.

During a conference call with a small group of reporters on July 3, the two lawmakers said they were fully confident that Obama used executive orders to render immigration laws so lax that children in Central America believe that once they enter the United States, they will automatically qualify for legalization proceedings.

Their suspicions were confirmed during a ride-along with border patrol agents near the Rio Grande River, where they witnessed individuals being taken into custody and then had a chance to interact with them.

“Their stories are basically, ‘I wanted to come to the United States, I wanted to be reunited with a family member in the United States and I’ve been told that if I come, they’ll let me in,’” Goodlatte said.

Lofgren had a different takeaway from her border visit. While she acknowledged that smugglers “have engaged in misleading efforts” to convince children to sneak across the border, she was certain there were more factors at stake.

“Here’s the thing,” she said. “OK, the smugglers are giving this pitch, but even if you can believe that was true, what would it take to give your 8-year-old to some smuggler to go off for a thousand miles? You don’t do that just because you’re going to get permission [to stay in the U.S.] You’re doing it because things have deteriorated to the point where it actually seems it’s smarter to get your kid out of there than to face the warlords who are threatening her life.”

Lofgren cited one briefing that she said would have been particularly enlightening for her absent Republican counterparts: a meeting with volunteer lawyers who said more than half the children who enter the country illegally across the Southwest border are found eligible for asylum as the victims of human trafficking, abandonment or abuse.

But even that statistic runs counter to one being touted by Republicans. According to a release from Goodlatte, a “key finding” from the border trip last week was that “many of these minors and families are able to game the asylum process since most applications are rubberstamped for approval.”

The same release cites an internal DHS memo stating “there is proven or possible fraud in up to 70% of asylum applications.”

Lofgren also described a visit to the Brownsville holding center where she saw children “sleeping on the cement with little tin foil blankets,” and a 3-year-old toddler traveling alone whose only word appeared to be “Miami.”

What she witnessed, she said, reinforced her position that Congress must, at minimum, address the overcrowding at detention facilities and improve conditions for children being held there. “We do need the resources to deal with these kids and I hope we’ll have a bipartisan effort to deal with that,” she said.

Goodlatte reiterated Tuesday that Congress shouldn’t act when the president could with his own resources.

“Republicans are committed to solving this problem, including seeking changes to current law,” he said. “However, no amount of resources or changes will be effective in stemming the surge of illegal border crossings if President Obama continues to ignore the law.”

July 3, 2014

Goodlatte: Border Crisis ‘Disaster of President Obama’s Own Making’

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Goodlatte, R-Va., says the president must take responsibility for the border crisis. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

After concluding a bipartisan, fact-finding tour of the immigrant crisis on the Southwest border, House Judiciary Committee Republicans said Thursday the onus is on President Barack Obama — not Congress — to address the surge of Central American women and children entering the country illegally.

In a conference call with a small group of reporters, Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said that while there were may be some things the House could do to confront the matter head-on, this was a crisis of Obama’s making and he should be the one to fix it.

Full story

July 2, 2014

33 House Republicans to Obama: End Deportation Stays for ‘Dreamers’

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Issa spearheaded a letter to Obama calling for the end of DACA. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who at one point was said to be writing his own immigration overhaul legislation and this week is at the Texas border visiting detention centers, has sent President Barack Obama a letter calling for an end to the 2012 executive order granting stays of deportation to children brought into the country illegally by their parents.

Reversing the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals order, known as DACA, would “send a clear signal to all individuals that our immigration laws will be enforced,” the California Republican and thirty-two House GOP cosigners wrote.

DACA doesn’t apply to the thousands of children who have crossed the border illegally in recent months, but critics of the Obama policy say it has contributed to a general misunderstanding in some Central American countries that young people will be allowed to stay in the U.S.

Issa and his backers also say Obama should “make an explicit public comment that you will not support legislation that extends legal status to newly arriving illegal aliens no matter the age.”

Full story

Congressman: We Can’t Just Kick Them Off a Bus in Guatemala

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Farenthold, R-Texas, wants Congress to respond to the surge of unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Barack Obama deserves blame for much of the misery in overcrowded illegal immigrant facilities on the Southwest border, a conservative Texas congressman told CQ Roll Call Wednesday.

But “instant deportation,” Republican Blake Farenthold said, is no answer to the crisis.

The second-term congressman is part of a group of lawmakers taking a firsthand look this week at Texas facilities that have been stretched to the breaking point in recent weeks as thousands of Central American children and mothers have streamed across the border seeking asylum.

The sudden surge of young immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador is a direct result of the president’s rhetoric on immigration, Farenthold said.

“He telegraphed a message that if you’re a kid, you’re gonna get to stay,” Farenthold explained.

But the Corpus Christi lawmaker, who before 2012 redistricting represented the area now at the center of national scrutiny, is also frustrated with many of his constituents — and even with some of his colleagues — who call for instant deportation of “alien” children.

“We can’t just take them to the town square in Guatemala and kick them off the bus,” Farenthold said. “I also make the point that, if I were to send my child on a journey this perilous, child protective services would be knocking on my door trying to take away custody of my children.

“Here’s the thing with border security,” he continued. “Let’s assume it’s 100 percent secure, we catch anybody who crosses the border within a mile of the border, alright? Even if we capture a child, we still have to do something with that child.”

The “national security” and “humanitarian crisis” elements of the child migrant border surge are different, according to Farenthold — a distinction that needs to be clear for both Republicans and Democrats as Congress reconvenes next week with just 16 legislative work days scheduled before the August recess.

Full story

June 24, 2014

Issa, Cummings Clash Anew Over IRS Loss of Emails (Video)

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Democrats spent much of Monday’s IRS hearing criticizing Issa’s handling of the proceedings. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee went after IRS Commissioner John Koskinen again Monday, while Democrats on the panel reserved much of their ire for Chairman Darrell Issa.

Issa, involved in a high-profile clash earlier this year with Elijah Cummings, the senior Democrat on the panel, was criticized repeatedly during Monday’s hearing by Democrats who dismissed the proceeding as election-year posturing.

At one point, the California Republican warned Democrats that House rules forbid members from questioning the integrity or motives of other members — touching off a heated protest from Rep. Steven Horsford. The Nevada Democrat angrily contrasted Issa’s admonition Monday with the March 5 incident, in which Cummings’ microphone was turned off mid-statement on Issa’s orders.

Full story

June 23, 2014

Monday Night’s IRS Hearing Gets a Big GOP Drumroll

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Issa has questions for the IRS. (CQ Roll Call File Photo/Bill Clark)

Is C-SPAN suddenly “Must See TV”? Some members of the House seem to think so.

Republicans are promoting Monday night’s IRS hearing at 7 p.m. like it’s a new reality show on Fox, with Speaker John A. Boehner tweeting promos, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa fielding questions on Facebook and the committee itself unveiling a new “IRS Targeting Investigation” website.

MT @GOPoversight: TONIGHT AT 7PM: #IRS Obstruction: #LoisLerner‘s Missing Emails http://t.co/URTPSO2pQO pic.twitter.com/XVdmTOnP01

— Speaker John A. Boehner (@SpeakerBoehner) June 23, 2014

As the tweet above notes, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is set to appear at 7 p.m. before the panel to answer more questions about the tax agency’s handling of emails related to the targeting of conservative groups. On Friday, the former Clinton and Bush administration official, who was brought in last year by the White House to clean up the IRS, was grilled by Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee.

The harsh questioning from Congress comes amid new questions about the IRS after revelations the agency has irretrievably lost months of emails from Lois Lerner, the former official at the center of the scandal.

June 17, 2014

Issa Subpoenas Lois Lerner’s Hard Drive for ‘Lost’ IRS Emails

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The IRS says Lerner’s emails were lost in a computer crash. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House is consumed this week with the upcoming GOP leadership elections in the wake of Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary defeat, but Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa doesn’t want that reality to take the pressure off the IRS.

The California Republican is plowing ahead with his panel’s year-long investigation into alleged misconduct at the IRS in its targeting of certain conservative outside groups applying for tax-exempt status. Full story

June 2, 2014

GOP Leaders: Cut Saturday Mail Service to Pay for Roads

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Shuster supports a bill to end Saturday mail delivery to pay for roads. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There were plenty of bipartisan hallelujahs with last month’s House passage of a water resources and infrastructure bill — enough so that Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., is now cautiously optimistic about passing a highway bill this summer.

But the GOP leadership’s plan to save the Highway Trust Fund from running out of money before the August recess is likely to be more controversial than the water bill — especially if the plan means no more Saturday mail delivery.

According to a memo circulated among House Republicans in the late-afternoon on Friday, leaders plan to spend the next two months ginning up support for a short-term  highway bill extension that would also spare from bankruptcy the fund that pays for transportation projects around the country.

The suggested pay-for? Eliminating the U.S. Postal Service’s Saturday mail delivery service. Full story

May 30, 2014

House Marijuana Votes Earn Backing of Rare Bipartisan Coalition (Video)

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Rohrabacher helped steer the medical marijuana amendment through the House. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In a series of late-night votes that marijuana-rights advocates say reflect a nation’s changing attitudes, the Republican-controlled House moved early Friday  to block the federal government from interfering with state laws on pot and hemp.

The most far-reaching of the votes — a measure to cut funds for Drug Enforcement Agency raids on medical marijuana operations — passed 219-189 on the strength of an unusual coalition that cut across traditional partisan lines.

The medical marijuana measure was offered by conservative Republican Dana Rohrabacher of California as an amendment to the fiscal 2015 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill. 

There were 49 Republicans who voted “yes” on the medical marijuana amendment, jointly sponsored by Rohrabacher; Sam Farr, D-Calif.; Don Young, R-Alaska; Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.; Tom McClintock, R-Calif.; Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.; Paul Broun, R-Ga.; Jared Polis, D-Colo.; Steve Stockman, R-Texas; Barbara Lee, D-Calif.; Justin Amash, R-Mich.; and Dina Titus, D-Nev. Full story

May 27, 2014

Cummings Says Issa’s ‘Going Rogue’ on Benghazi (Video)

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Cummings says Issa is “going rogue.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Rep. Darrell Issa’s decision to press on with his House panel’s Benghazi investigation, despite the creation of a new select committee to look into the 2012 terror attack in Libya, is an indication the California Republican is “going rogue,” a leading Democrat said Tuesday.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said that Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is undermining the new special select committee created by Speaker John A. Boehner and chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.

“I think he is going rogue,” Issa, the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, said in an appearance on MSNBC’s “Politics Nation” with Al Sharpton. “I actually believe that Chairman Issa is out of control, I really believe that.”

Full story

May 16, 2014

State Noncommittal on Kerry Honoring House Subpoena

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The State Department isn’t saying whether Kerry plans to testify May 29. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The State Department would not confirm Thursday night whether John Kerry will appear at a new Benghazi hearing scheduled May 29 by House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, who hours earlier issued another subpoena for the secretary of state.

State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said discussions with the House panel are ongoing, but that no agreement had been reached.

“This is now the second time in 14 days that the Secretary of State has been subpoenaed while traveling overseas representing the United States on urgent national security issues. This time the subpoena was accompanied by a headline-grabbing, highly political tweet attacking the integrity of the State Department itself,” Harf said in a statement.

“This is not the way legitimate and responsible oversight is conducted, and it’s a departure from the days when Rep. Issa himself once lamented that a Secretary of State should not be distracted from the work of national security to testify at the barrel of a subpoena. As we have said, and we reiterate today, we will continue to work with the Committee to resolve their request, but we have not made arrangements for a hearing date, and we hope to explore with them whether there are witnesses better suited to answer their questions and meet their needs for oversight.” Full story

May 13, 2014

Subpoena on Hold: Kerry Won’t Appear at May 21 Hearing

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Kerry won’t appear before Congress on May 21. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A subpoena for John Kerry to testify before Congress next week on Benghazi has been put on hold while the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the State Department negotiate when — or if — the secretary of state will appear.

Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said Monday night that Kerry will be in Mexico May 21 on a previously scheduled trip, and that the department is working with the committee to “explore whether there are better means of addressing the Committee’s interests, including through a more appropriate witness.”

She said there has been no deal on arrangements for an alternative date.

We and the Committee have been in touch to determine how to resolve their subpoena, but we have not yet made arrangements for a hearing date. We look forward to addressing the matters raised in the Committee’s letter and subpoena,” she said in a statement. Full story

May 7, 2014

House Holds Lois Lerner in Contempt Over IRS Scandal (Video)

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House voted Wednesday to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress and to instruct the Justice Department to probe her for criminal charges.

The actions mark the culmination of two simultaneous committee investigations into allegations that Lerner knowingly presided over the improper targeting of conservative outside groups seeking tax-exempt status with the agency, including stalling the application process and giving special scrutiny to organizations that appeared to be affiliated with the tea party movement.

One resolution (H Res 574), agreed to on a 231-187 vote, will make Lerner the sixth public official since 1982 to be held in contempt for her refusal to testify before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Lerner cited her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent in an appearance last year.

The other resolution (H Res 565), referred by the Ways and Means Committee and supported Wednesday by a 250-168 vote, would call upon Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to appoint a special prosecutor to evaluate whether Lerner should face criminal charges on specific counts of misconduct related to the scandal. Full story

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