Politics

Darrell Issa’s looming letters to the Obama administration

Jonathan Strong Contributor

Top GOP oversight official California Rep. Darrell Issa resent dozens of letters to the Obama administration over the holidays that received no answer when he sent them the first time as a member of the Republican minority in the House.

The letters cover scores of topics and form a kind of oversight backlog looming over the Obama administration even as the early action in public will come in the form of congressional hearings.

Though many of these letters were ignored over the last two years, the Obama administration will face a new urgency in responding to the missives now that Issa has subpoena power to compel documents and testimony related to the inquiries.

On Election Night, Issa said getting answers to the letters was his “first and foremost” priority. Now, his office is keeping quiet about the letters in an effort not to further antagonize the president, who is mobilizing for war with Issa.

Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Issa, said he could not provide a list of the letters Issa resent to the administration.

“When there’s no reason to antagonize or create a conflict that doesn’t exist, we’ll err on the side of being judicious,” Bardella said, saying the agencies would need time to respond.

But he did indicate inquiries on some of the more polarizing topics like ACORN, the Countrywide VIP mortgage scandal, the bailout of insurance giant AIG and illicit job offers for former Democratic Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestek are not among the looming letters.

Topics that remain unaddressed include special back room deals between industry sectors or individual lawmakers and the White House to help bolster support for the president’s health care law and how reams of classified documents made their way to Wikileaks and what steps are being taken to prevent such leaks in the future.

Another letter subject that remains unaddressed is conflicting statements between top military officials and the Obama White House regarding North Korea policy.

The looming letters illustrate part of the nature of congressional oversight in that even though Issa and other top Republicans will achieve subpoena power immediately, the results of their oversight work may not bear fruit for some time.

The reason is time spent at agencies and the White House collecting documents and preparing responses coupled with the time spent by Issa’s team of investigators analyzing the material.

In the meantime, Issa has set up early hearings on topics with much of the groundwork already done, such as food safety, or with special timeliness, such as Wikileaks.

But while Issa’s oversight inquiries to the Obama administration are getting their slow but steady start, Democrats are already mobilizing for war, leveling their most aggressive attacks yet on the California Republican before he’s had a chance to hold a single hearing.

Responding to news that Issa sent letters to over 150 industry trade groups regarding potential areas for oversight on the administration’s aggressive regulatory push over the last two years, Democrats attacked, saying the requests show Issa is doing the bidding of big business, not the middle class.

“This really says it all about whose interests the GOP is really out to protect – and it’s not middle class families,” said Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee.

The attacks come as Democrat leaders in the House recently replaced Rep. Edolphus Towns of New York with Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland as the top ranking Democrat of the Oversight Committee, of which Issa will now be at the helm.

The move was designed to establish a more aggressive foil to Issa.

A spokesman for Obama did not reply to a request for comment.

Ed. note: this article has been corrected.