How Elijah Cummings helped Democrats regain their fighting spirit

OPINION - Is this the last we’ll hear from that witch hunter known as Rep. Darrell Issa? If so, you can thank Rep. Elijah Cummings for that...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Is this the last we’ll hear from that witch hunter known as Rep. Darrell Issa? If so, you can thank Rep. Elijah Cummings for that. And Democrats may have gained back their mojo in the process.

If one can trace back the beginning of the end for Issa (R-California), it all started at a March 5 hearing.   Issa—chair of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and the self-appointed chief inquisitor of the Obama administration—had a contentious exchange with Cummings (D-Maryland), the ranking member of the committee.

Issa was questioning former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner on the agency’s targeting of nonprofit groups with certain advocacy positions.  In a report, Issa has accused Lerner of scrutinizing and cracking down on conservative groups that have become influential in electoral politics.

At the hearing, Lerner refused to testify and invoked the Fifth Amendment.  Previously, House Republicans accused her of lying to Congress, and Issa has considered pursuing contempt proceedings against Lerner.

Rep. Issa then abruptly adjourned the meeting, but Rep. Cummings wanted to speak.  Issa shut off his colleague’s microphone.

“Mr. Chairman I have a statement.  I have a procedural question Mr. Chairman,” said Cummings.  “Mr. Chairman cannot run a committee like this.  You just cannot do this.  We’re better than that as a country, we’re better than that as a committee,” he added.

And then the lawmaker from Baltimore really began to throw down, as it were, staying true to the folks who sent him to Washington.

“I want to ask a question. What’s the big deal!” asked Cummings.  “Let me say what I have to say! I’ve listened to you for the past 15 or 20 minutes. Let me say what I have to say!”

“You cannot have a one-sided investigation,” Cummings insisted.  “There is something absolutely wrong with that.  And it’s absolutely un-American.”

Issa reportedly apologized to Cummings by phone, but at the same time he also is accusing the Maryland Democrat of acting as “defense counsel” for the former IRS official, challenging Cummings’ arguments against contempt proceedings for Lerner.  Issa also accused Cummings of running interference for the Democratic Party and President Obama.

Democrats are striking back at Issa’s bullying tactics and grandstanding, with members of the committee accusing the California Republican of breaking the rules by bringing Lerner to testify.  “[I]t seems that Chairman Issa is more interested in a one-sided political spectacle rather than having an actual impartial hearing,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Michigan) in a statement. “Chairman Issa owes the American people a public apology so we can start to restore a sense of civility in Washington. Chairman Issa – and the House Republicans who continue to stand behind his actions – simply can’t suspend democracy when it’s advantageous for them.”

“Chairman Issa’s behavior is unbecoming of a Member of Congress and he needs to publicly apologize in the House for his offensive actions,” the Michigan Democrat added.

The larger issue is that Issa has been accused of witch hunts on other issues and a “repeated history of abuse” against his Democratic colleagues.  And he has been accused of wasting taxpayer dollars by searching for nonexistent scandals in the Obama administration, such as claiming al-Qaeda involvement in the killing of four U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya.

This moment should remind students of political history of the downfall of Sen. Joseph “Joe” McCarthy (R-Wisconsin), another petty dictator who used a committee as a political soapbox, and got high on a power trip until he tripped and fell.  McCarthy was the chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, which he used to prosecute a witch hunt against so-called Communists in the U.S. government.  McCarthy’s downfall began when pursued “communist infiltration in the military” in 1953. The Army hired Boston lawyer Joseph Welch.

During a hearing on June 9, 1954, McCarthy accused one of Welch’s lawyers of having Communist ties.  Welch then uttered the words that led to the Senator’s unraveling: “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” Welch continued, interrupting McCarthy, “Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”

Suddenly, the once immensely popular senator became persona non grata, and his Communist witch hunts vanished along with him.  In 1954, Sen. McCarthy was censured by the 67-to-22 vote of the Senate and stripped of his power.  He died three years later due to liver disease brought on by alcoholism.

Meanwhile, Issa—who is of Lebanese descent—is also the wealthiest sitting member of Congress, with an estimated net worth of $355.4 million, according to The Hill. That’s a lot of money, and a lot of power.  And like they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Rep. Issa got ahead of himself, and now Rep. Cummings has schooled him on what they don’t play in Baltimore.

Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove