Updated 12:27 p.m. | Top White House political adviser David Simas refused again Friday to honor a congressional subpoena, prompting Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to vote to rebuke the administration.
The Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted 19-14 to reject the White House’s claim that Simas has absolute immunity from a subpoena from Congress.
Republicans said they were standing up for the principle that no one is above the law, and Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa quoted a long list of Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who have backed Congress’ right to subpoena top administration officials.
Democrats, led by ranking member Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, said they strongly disagree with the White House’s claim of absolute immunity but also strongly disagree with Issa’s push to press the issue, warning it could hurt the institution if they take a case to court.
The White House informed Issa at 7:30 a.m. Friday that Simas would not appear, Issa said. The absence was “not excused,” the California Republican added.
White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston asked Issa to withdraw the subpoena to discuss his late Thursday offer for Simas to give a deposition instead of subpoenaed testimony .
Issa refused to do so.
“We have an absolute right and obligation” to investigate the new White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, he said. “This was intended to be a short, and I hope it will be, oversight of a relatively small but in the past controversial office, consistent with our requirement to do oversight even without a predicate of wrongdoing,” he said.
Issa said oversight of the previously troubled political office will help American people be more comfortable and ensure taxpayer dollars are being used properly.
“This is not alleging a scandal at any level,” Issa said of the subpoena. But oversight is still legitimate, he said. “We are accusing neither the president nor anyone in this four-person office of any wrongdoing.”
Issa pointed to Hatch Act violations by two Obama Cabinet officials, as well as previous incarnations of the White House political office, as further justification for oversight. He said he wanted to ask Simas who coordinated the political activities of hundreds of other officials in the government beyond just the president and the first lady.
Carolyn Lerner of the Office of Special Counsel has said she believes the office appears to be operating consistently with the Hatch Act, which limits the political activities of civil servants.
Issa said there is a legitimate role for taxpayer dollars to be spent on coordinating the president’s political schedule, pointing to security and other concerns that would come from having the president or the first lady having to go to and from the Democratic National Committee’s offices for briefings.
He said he expected he would be satisfied with answers he would get from Simas regarding the activities the office engages in on behalf of the president if Simas would testify.
While Issa’s push could lead to another lawsuit against the White House, impeachment still doesn’t appear to be on the table.