As they watched the pomp of the Republican takeover of the House on Wednesday, Democrats made no bones about readying their defenses against hard-charging GOP committee chairmen.
At the front lines will be the ranking or top Democrats on several powerful committees who will be responsible for trying to block GOP legislation and deliver the Democrats’ counter message.
Few of them will be more important than Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who has promised probes of seemingly every nook and cranny of government.
Issa has the authority to subpoena anyone to testify, on virtually any topic—without the consent of fellow committee members.
“My role is to try to make sure that we’re about the business of true oversight as well as reform,” Cummings said Wednesday. “We need to make sure the process is fair and that in hearings we present the entire picture.”
In other words, Cummings will be defending President Obama.
Democrats believe Issa served early notice about his plans back in October, when he told conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh that he expects “a certain degree of gridlock as the president adjusts to the fact that he has been one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times. …He’s going to have to come back a different direction.”
On Wednesday, Issa defended his remarks in a recorded interview on CNN’s “John King, USA,” saying he hadn’t intended to suggested illegal conduct on the president’s part but that “people misunderstand the meaning of the word corrupt. …It’s no different than a disc drive that’s given you some bits that are wrong.”
Cummings said Wednesday that Issa is “drawing conclusions before we ever delve into the matter.”
In gearing up, Cummings has hired veteran congressional investigator David Rapallo as his Democratic staff director. Rapallo, an attorney, previously served as chief investigative counsel on the oversight committee under Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman.
Other Democrats expected to serve similar roles include Rep. John Conyers Jr., of Detroit, who is the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. New chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), aided by immigration subcommittee chairman Steve King (R-Iowa), is a expected to bring legislation that would eliminate “birthright” citizenship for children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants.