House Republican Reps. Darrell Issa (Calif.) and Lamar Smith (Texas) are hoping that if they speak loudly and often enough about allegations that the White House used job offers to try to clear Senate primaries in Colorado and Pennsylvania, someone will eventually listen.
Issa, the ranking member on the Oversight and Government Reform panel, and Smith, the top GOP member of the Judiciary Committee, plan to keep pressing the administration for more information about job offers that it allegedly dangled in front of Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak and former Colorado Speaker Andrew Romanoff to deter them from mounting primary challenges to incumbent Democrats.
Judiciary Democrats on Wednesday killed a Republican attempt to force Attorney General Eric Holder to turn over documents related to “any guidance or recommendations” that his department gave the White House about the Sestak and Romanoff job offers.
Democrats dismiss the Republican campaign to probe circumstances surrounding the allegations as a naked political ploy that will fail to resonate with the public.
“It’s all about scoring political points,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a Judiciary member who listened to a slew of Republicans deliver statements railing against the administration at Wednesday’s markup. “I don’t think you can find an expert on either side of the aisle who argues there’s a credible case here for some impropriety. … I think they’re missing the boat. They honestly think it’s a good political line of attack, but I don’t think it resonates very well.”
But Republicans are digging in and plan to continue to press the matter between now and the November elections.
Smith said he is considering scheduling a “minority forum” — or an unofficial hearing run by Republicans — where he would call on campaign and legal experts to testify “about the administration’s promises and transparency and so forth.” Smith may also seek testimony from individuals — such as former President Bill Clinton, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina — who Republicans argue could have direct knowledge of the Sestak and Romanoff offers.
The White House has insisted the administration did nothing wrong and has disputed charges that officials tried to use job offers to dissuade Sestak or Romanoff from running.
Issa was the first GOP Member to seize on the issue after Sestak responded “yes” to a question posed during a local radio interview in February about whether he was offered a job by the White House to bow out of the Pennsylvania Senate primary against Sen. Arlen Specter. More Republicans joined his crusade late last month when the White House admitted to enlisting Clinton as a go-between to raise the possibility with Sestak that he could snag an unpaid presidential advisory post if he remained in the House instead of challenging Specter. Romanoff added fuel to the fire on June 2 when he acknowledged that Messina called him in September 2009 and “suggested three positions that might be available” were he to drop his plans to mount a primary challenge to Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.
Earlier this month, Issa wrote White House Counsel Robert Bauer requesting “a full and complete list of all elections in which the White House engaged in efforts to persuade specific candidates to drop election bids” and also asked the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to investigate whether Emanuel’s or Messina’s actions violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal officials from interfering with elections.
Issa acknowledged that his efforts may amount to little more than raising public awareness.
Smith said Wednesday that he has talked with GOP leaders about the possibility of trying to force a floor vote on the Sestak and Romanoff matter in the coming weeks. Michael Steel, a spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), did not respond directly to a question about whether leaders would seek a floor vote, but he said his boss supported Smith’s and Issa’s efforts to probe the matter and would “continue to work with all of the relevant committees” on the issue.
By continuing to make noise, Smith said he believes there’s an opportunity to rally the public — if not Democratic lawmakers — to his side.
“Obviously, how this plays out in the court of public opinion is important, and if there’s more of a public demand for the facts and transparency in administration actions, then maybe we’ll have more success,” Smith said.
But Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz — who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s incumbent retention program — said she doesn’t believe the issue will gain traction; the Florida Democrat believes it will end up a nonstarter for Republicans.
“People recognize that it’s just one more in a series of obstructionist things that they are doing to try to distract voters from the issues that matter most to them,” Wasserman Schultz said. “These are the people who invented the K Street project’ and the revolving door of cash and special interest money.”
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) indicated that GOP messaging likely would cite alleged job offers as just one more reason why “one-party complete control is a problem,” to try to bolster the minority’s efforts to win back the House this fall.
And Sessions cast the alleged job offers as part of a “continuing pattern” of “Chicago-style politics” by the Obama administration; he defended Republicans’ efforts to hammer on demands for more information.
“Republicans are trying to ask a valid question and that is the facts of the case,” he said.