Kucinich Challenges Towns for Top House Oversight Slot

| Wed Nov. 17, 2010 10:40 AM EST

It's official. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has launched a bid to become ranking member of the House oversight committee, when the Republicans take over the House in January, a race that will pit him against the panel's current chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY). The top Democratic slot on the committee will be a key position for the Dems in the next Congress, for the GOP pitbull who will be at the helm of the committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), has earned a reputation as Obama's "annoyer-in-chief" and has vowed to initiate multiple investigations of the Obama administration. Issa, as the ranking Republican member of the committee, has already launched politically charged probes of, among other things, a White House job offer made to Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Penn.), presumably to persuade him to not challenge Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary. If Issa was a thorn in the side of the administration as a minority House member, when he assumes the chairmanship and obtains subpoena power, he will become a giant pain in the ass for the White House. Think Henry Waxman during the Bush years. Issa has already promised to hold an unheard of 280 hearings during his first year, which are expected to include a probe of climate science. By comparison, Waxman held 203 hearings over two years.

From Kucinich's letter:

Rep. Darrell Issa of California, has already made wild and unsubstantiated charges which threaten to turn the principal oversight committee of the House into a witch hunt.

In just the past week, he has indicated a telling enthusiasm for a broad probe into the $700 billion American Reinvestment and Recovery Act program.  He has equated it with "walking around money."  As you know, that is political slang for money off the books and under the table.  He made this unsubstantiated claim in the context of promising hundreds of investigative hearings into the present Administration, calling President Obama "one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times." I immediately sent Mr. Issa a letter (attached) calling for him to produce the evidence for such charges or to retract his statement.

Mr. Issa, through his eagerness to make unsubstantiated charges and to draw conclusions in advance of evidence, reveals a lack of restraint and basic fairness.  This conduct in the Chairman of the Committee will degrade Congress’ oversight credibility and undermine the institution of the House through a lack of restraint in the use of subpoena power.  

We 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.

It is a matter of the highest importance that any intemperate use of the power of the Chair be challenged at every turn.

The independent-minded Kucinich (on his website he dubs himself "America's Most Courageous Congressman"), who mounted a long-odds and unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2008, has often challenged the powers that be on both sides of the aisle. There's little doubt that he would throw out every obstacle he can to thwart the more partisan aspects of Issa's agenda. Towns, on the other hand, has largely proven himself unable to keep the California Republican in check. In recent years, Towns' own investigation's have frequently been overshadowed by Issa's.

Recently, Democrats have privately expressed concerns about Towns retaining the senior slot on the committee during the Issa-era, preferring someone with a stronger presence to do battle with Issa. But Kucinich, an ardent progressive who takes pride in adopting buck-the-conventional policies (such as his years-long quest to establish a Department of Peace), may have a tough time convincing fellow Democrats that he ought to be placed in this high-profile position. Additionally, he's currently fifth in seniority on the committee (though Rep. Paul Kajorski, who's second, lost his reelection bid). In challenging Towns, he is leapfrogging several other members. And there's this: if House Democrats back Kucinich—or another committee member—over Towns, that could draw protest from the Congressional Black Caucus, which usually is quick to protect the chairmanship positions of its members.

For the Dems, it's a bit of a catch-22. Towns remaining the top Democrat on the committee poses a problem. So does replacing him with Kucinich or amonther oversight member.