Kucinich’s pitch for oversight ranking: ‘zero tolerance for smears and innuendo’

Jonathan Strong Jonathan Strong, 27, is a reporter for the Daily Caller covering Congress. Previously, he was a reporter for Inside EPA where he wrote about environmental regulation in great detail, and before that a staffer for Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA). Strong graduated from Wheaton College (IL) with a degree in political science in 2006. He is a huge fan of and season ticket holder to the Washington Capitals hockey team. Strong and his wife reside in Arlington.
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Rep. Dennis Kucinich is officially making his pitch to Democratic colleagues about why he should replace Rep. Edolphus Towns as the top Democrat on the House oversight committee, vowing to take on the committee’s chairman-to-be, California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa.

The far-left Kucinich is a wild card in the battle for the slot after two other Democrats higher in seniority than him have issued public comments of support for Towns.

Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Elijah Cummings say they support Towns as chairman despite a bipartisan image Towns’s weak tenure during the last two years has given wide berth for Issa’s surprisingly effective role President Obama’s chief congressional tormentor.

In a letter to House colleagues, Kucinich pledges he will keep a policy of “zero tolerance for smears and innuendo” with Issa.

“Every single statement by Chairman Issa which is lacking in respect for the process of oversight, every unsubstantiated allegation or any publicly pronounced assumption which lacks basic fairness will be promptly challenged,” Kucinich says in the letter.

Kucinich said he ran for the seat because Democrats “cannot simply stand by idly and hope that such a reckless approach to the use of the power of the chair will not happen, especially since it is not only being promised, but demonstrated by the person who will hold the gavel.”

In saying Democrats are standing by “idly” at present, Kucinich makes a damning criticism of Towns by implication. However, the short, feisty perennial presidential candidate makes no mention of Towns by name.

A spokeswoman for Towns said “Based on the overwhelming support Rep. Towns is receiving from fellow Democrats, he is confident that he will be Ranking Member.” She also reiterated Towns’s vow to play hardball with Issa. “Chairman Towns has clearly stated that any attempt to use this committee as a political weapon are intolerable and he will lead a strong and unified resistance against any such effort,” the spokeswoman said.

In the letter, Kucinich notes his busy tenure as head of the domestic policy subcommittee, part of the larger oversight committee.

“In the past two Congresses, the Domestic Policy Subcommittee, which I chaired, held over 60 hearings and heard testimony from hundreds of witnesses,” the letter says.

As The Daily Caller reported Friday, the Obama White House is said to want Towns out because he is seen as a liability to Obama with Issa set to achieve subpoena power come January when Republicans take over the House.

The problem Democrats face, two well-placed sources tell TheDC, is that replacing Towns with Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the second most senior Democrat on the panel, is considered politically unpalatable.

This is especially so given the contentious fight over minority whip where Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina was pressured to forgo his challenge of Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland for the leadership position. Edging out a second African-American in leadership with a white member of Congress is not feasible given the political dynamics of the Democratic Caucus.

Instead, top Democrats sought to bypass Maloney and install Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, an African American, who is third in seniority on the committee.

Maloney, who values her work on the committee highly, said no. The nine-term New Yorker is also described as sensitive to the importance of seniority.

The ranking member position is critical for Democrats because Issa will attain subpoena power in January, giving him access to virtually any documents in the White House’s file cabinets.

But Issa faces risks nearly as great as Obama in the high-stakes oversight dance for he could easily be seen as overreaching, insiders say.

Towns is vowing to hit Issa with “a little Bed-Stuy toughness,” his press secretary says, referring to Brooklyn, New York, which he represents, but his proclamations are doing little to assuage a bipartisan view Issa has run roughshod over Towns as ranking member in the last two years.

Jonathan Strong