Ex-Rep. Issa gets confirmation hearing, muddling potential comeback

California Republican indicated he might run in California's 50th District against incumbent GOP Rep. Hunter

Former Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., will sit for his confirmation hearing on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Former Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., will sit for his confirmation hearing on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 16, 2019 at 11:40am

Former Rep. Darrell Issa will finally appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a confirmation hearing Thursday on his nomination to be director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, casting uncertainty on his contingent plan of mounting a congressional comeback.

The California Republican, who represented San Diego County in the House for 18 years before retiring in January, was nominated by President Donald Trump for the administrative post last Sept. 19 — exactly a year before his confirmation hearing, scheduled for Thursday at 9:30 a.m.

Issa announced his intention to launch an exploratory committee in August as he considered jumping into the Republican primary against Rep. Duncan Hunter in California’s 50th District, which is adjacent to the 49th District that Issa represented before he retired. The two districts span much of the same media market.

[Former Rep. Darrell Issa launching an exploratory committee for Rep. Duncan Hunter’s seat]

“Quite frankly, if I’m not confirmed by Nov. 3, then I expect I’ll be a candidate for the congressional seat,” Issa said earlier this month. Efforts to reach Issa on Monday were not successful.

Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, has been using his position to withhold consent from Chairman James Risch of Idaho to schedule committee votes on some nominees as leverage to get Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to fulfill Menendez’s outstanding information requests.

Even though Issa has finally received a hearing date, the Senate could still take weeks or even months to confirm him.

After the hearing Thursday, the Senate will hold a markup of the resolution to confirm him. That resolution will then land on the queue of confirmations on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk, and the Kentucky Republican will decide how to prioritize it on the floor.

A spokesman for McConnell couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

With Hunter facing trial in January on federal corruption and campaign finance charges just weeks before the California primaries, Issa told the California Report earlier this month that he intends to run for Hunter’s seat to prevent the Democrats from picking up another longtime GOP stronghold in Southern California.

“There’s nothing wrong with his voting,” Issa said of Hunter. “But he is injured in a way that, according to most polls I’ve seen — all polls I’ve seen — he cannot win reelection. And as a Republican, I don’t want to lose a seat that is clearly a seat that we need to have to get back in the majority.”

[Issa on challenging fellow Republican Hunter: ‘He cannot win reelection’]

Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, who lost to Hunter by less than 4 percentage points in 2018, is running again and is expected to mount a significant challenge to whichever Republican emerges.

Hunter’s seat was on the initial list of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targets in January.

Five other Republicans have already announced primary challenges to Hunter, including 2014 congressional candidate and political radio host Carl DeMaio.

DeMaio has already built a war chest of over $1 million, with $900,000 raised in just under a month after he announced his campaign and $250,000 more in a personal loan to his own campaign committee.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race as Leans Republican.

Hunter ended the second quarter of 2019 with just under $300,000 cash on hand. His third-quarter fundraising numbers will not be public until October.

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