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Boehner: Issa within 'rights' to shut down lawmaker

By Halimah Abdullah, CNN
updated 8:35 PM EST, Thu March 6, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rep. Elijah Cummings and Rep. Darrell Issa clash during IRS hearing
  • Underlying tensions are politically motivated and both sides accuse the other of opportunism
  • Congressional Black Caucus asks Speaker Boehner to remove Issa as chairman
  • Cummings, Congressional Black Caucus say Issa's actions part of disrespectful pattern

Washington (CNN) -- House Speaker John Boehner said Rep. Darrell Issa was justified in ending an acrimonious hearing on IRS targeting of conservative groups -- a meeting concluded when Issa cut the hearing room microphones with his harshest critic on the panel, Rep. Elijah Cummings, in mid sentence.

"From what I understand, I think Mr. Issa was in his rights to adjourn the hearing," Boehner told reporters on Thursday.

The Congressional Black Caucus wants Issa removed as House Oversight Committee chairman following Wednesday's uproar, which it sees as the latest in a series of disrespectful responses to pushback from Democrats during hearings on the IRS matter.

The group offered a resolution on Thursday.

"Chairman Issa's abusive behavior on March 5th is part of a continuing pattern in which he has routinely excluded members of the committee from investigative meetings and has routinely provided information to the press before sharing it with committee members," Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Marcia Fudge said.

The organization also sent Boehner a letter.

"The abuse of authority and misuse of the congressional privileges afforded them are an affront to the expectations of the American public. Congressman Darrell Issa of California abused his authority and therefore must be reprimanded to ensure the dignity of the House of Representatives is preserved," Fudge, an Ohio Democrat, wrote.

"We urge you to take prompt action to maintain the integrity of this body and remove Mr. Issa as chair of the Oversight & Government Reform Committee immediately," the letter continued.

Lawmakers clash during IRS hearing
Issa, Cummings clash at IRS hearing
Tension between congressmen Darrell Issa and Elijah Cummings during a House Oversight hearing has led to the Congressional Black Caucus calling for Issa to be removed from his post as committee chairman.
Tension between congressmen Darrell Issa and Elijah Cummings during a House Oversight hearing has led to the Congressional Black Caucus calling for Issa to be removed from his post as committee chairman.
Congressman Elijah Cummings says Rep. Darrell Issa has behaved in an un-American manner by cutting his colleague short during a congressional hearing.
Congressman Elijah Cummings says Rep. Darrell Issa has behaved in an un-American manner by cutting his colleague short during a congressional hearing.

Tensions are strained between Democrats and Republicans as the two sides continue to probe whether the IRS intentionally targeted conservative groups seeking tax exempt status.

The issue flared anew this week following a series of hearings last year around the oversight panel's investigation.

Issa: GOP-led IRS targeting probe may be at 'dead end'

Republicans see former IRS official Lois Lerner's decision to invoke her constitutional rights not to testify at hearings as obstructionist.

Democrats believe their GOP colleagues are trying to squeeze any kind of political capital they can out of an embarrassing episode for the Obama administration in a midterm election year.

Those frustrations boiled over on Wednesday when Issa refused to take Cummings' statement and muted his microphone when he protested an early end to the hearing during which Lerner again refused to testify.

Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, says he knows a thing or two about respect.

"Let me tell you something. I've been practicing law for 30, 40 years. And, so you see these kind of things," Cummings said after the hearing Wednesday. "But the thing that we are determined is not to be detracted, to get to the truth. And so I see it as a distraction. I don't worry about disrespect, okay?"

On Thursday, Cummings elaborated on why he felt Issa's actions were troubling.

"This is not the first time chairman Issa has shut mics down. You can't shut out the minority voice," Cummings said. "He shut me down because he didn't want to hear what I was saying or what he thought what I was saying. That's un-American."

Cummings told CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront" that he talked briefly with Issa on Thursday and said he doesn't "expect him to apologize."

Other Democratic lawmakers were similarly upset.

"What happened was so outrageous, so demeaning, so unjudicial, so awful in every respect, that we just absolutely have actually reached the boiling point," said Rep. Louis Slaughter or New York and the top Democrat on the Rules Committee.

Issa defended his actions.

"He was talking into a mic in an adjourned meeting. The fact is Mr. Cummings came to make a point of his objections to the process we'd been going through. He was, he was actually slandering me at the moment that the mics did go off by claiming that this had not been a real investigation," Issa said Wednesday.

"This had been a bipartisan investigation by multiple committees in which we had testimony in multiple hearings ... in which it was very clear there was targeting of conservative groups in which there were people who were acting outside the norm. We're going to continue our investigation. But just because Mr. Cummings would like to have a more convenient truth doesn't give him the right to make a speech."

Issa has also indicated that the probe may be approaching a "dead end" after nearly a year.

"It may well be that we have gotten to the bottom of it," Issa said.

Such uncertainty raises questions about whether Republicans who have alleged the targeting order came from political higher-ups, even the White House, can win a legal battle to compel Lerner to provide testimony.

Lisa Desjardins and Tom Cohen contributed to this report

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