The Obama Administration's Next Inquisitor
Chairman Darrell Issa may be stepping down as President Barack Obama's chief buzz kill, but his spirit will live on.
The bellicose California Republican has done his best to bolster the wily repute of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee by working the past four years as a kind of dark-arts gardener, clipping the petals off Obama's roses while sharpening the thorns, all in the hope of ensnaring the administration in scandal. Under Issa's watch, the committee has subpoenaed the Obama White House more than 100 times, served as ground zero for the investigation into the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and sparked inquiries that led to House votes holding former IRS Director Lois Lerner and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
Has he been a success? Sure, if your aim is filling airtime on cable news shows, churning the conservative base and doing your best to advance the downward spiral of presidential approval. And as he steps down due to Republican-imposed term limits on committee leadership posts, there are plenty of candidates to succeed him. Here's who is best positioned to do that, on our scale of one to five Issas.
Representative Jason Chaffetz: 4 Issas
The 47-year-old former placekicker for the Brigham Young University football team has pledged to carry on the committee's investigations of Benghazi and the IRS and has proven himself as media-savvy as Issa. Most memorably, he got then-Secret Service Director Julia Pierson to deny the existence of any security breaches related to Obama that the president hadn't been informed about. Just hours later, news broke of a security breach that Obama didn't know about. Pierson resigned the next day.
“We're going to have some high-octane disagreements, no doubt,” Chaffetz said in an interview. But we have to knock the prospective new chairman down at least one full Issa after insisting he wants to avoid the high-profile spats that flared between the current chairman and Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the panel.
“I would be aggressive, but I don't want it to be personal,” Chaffetz said. “I want to be able to put my arm around him and have a Diet Coke afterwards. I'm from Utah. That's what we do.”
Representative Mike Turner: 3 Issas
An Ohio Republican representing the district adjacent to Speaker John Boehner's, Turner is seen by insiders as running neck-and-neck with Chaffetz for the spot. Turner, 54, isn't quite the media darling that Chaffetz is, but the former Dayton mayor is a proven operator, securing about a 1,000 new jobs for the local Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in the last round of closures. Also upping his Issa factor: Turner is a bruiser. He's practiced in the Korean martial art of tae kwon do, once owning a school that taught the sport.
In an interview with The Washington Post's Josh Hicks in June in which he announced his intention to run for the spot, Turner said he wanted to work across the aisle in the position. “What we don’t need are parallel, competing investigations that come to no conclusion,” he said. Hmm. A subtle dig at the chairman? Very Issa.
Representatives Jim Jordan and John Mica: 2 Issas
The 50-year-old Jordan, another Ohioan, was elected to the House in 2006, keeping the benches warm for the wave of Tea Party lawmakers who would join him four years later. A two-time NCAA wrestling champ who later coached at the Ohio State University, he's served as a mentor for lawmakers aligned with the renegade conservative movement. But unfortunately, it's mostly party elders who will be making this decision.
Mica, 73, has been better known for his work as House transportation chairman. From his top spot on the oversight panel's subcommittee on transportation, he's aired grievances against the TSA, accusing it of becoming a bloated, unreasonable and unresponsive bureaucracy.
Senator Ron Johnson: 0 Issas
Though the Wisconsin Senator won't replace Issa on the House Oversight committee, Johnson could still steal his media spotlight. The 59-year-old is in line to take over the Senate's equivalent committee after Republicans won a majority of seats in the chamber last week. Perhaps the purest example of an outsider being swept into the Senate by the 2010 Tea Party wave, Johnson has accused the League of Conservation voters of “environmental jihad” and sued (unsuccessfully) to keep federal lawmakers and their staff out of Obamacare.
But the wealthy businessman from Oshkosh faces re-election in 2016—a presidential election year, when Democrats generally have more success—and, in an interview, Johnson said he wants to use the committee more as a tool for finding legislative bipartisanship and less as a political cudgel. That aim is better for the country than it is for our Issa Scale™.
“I don't want to spoil the atmosphere by being very partisan,” Johnson told us. “There are areas that are going to have to be investigated and areas of government where we have to provide oversight. But from my standpoint, it's not the top priority of what I'm trying to achieve.”
Graphics by Stephanie Davidson/Bloomberg.