You know you’ve hit the big time when the New York Times does a front page hit piece on you. That’s exactly what happened to Darrell Issa (R-CA) the day before we were scheduled to meet for an interview. While the NYT story contained nothing more than recycled lies and smears, there have been misperceptions about Issa for a long time. In fact, our relationship began that way.
Darrell and I first met after his failed U.S. Senate race in 1998, but I started to take a greater interest in him when he became a Congressman in 2001. The Jewish community, as well as the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, had a problem with him because of his perceived positions on Israel. The Jewish Forward, a national publication, thought he was a Muslim. I decided that it was time to start asking some questions.
It turns out that everybody had it wrong. Darrell is a Lebanese Christian by background who grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio 10 minutes from where I did. We were born less than a month apart. He has two siblings married to Jews, and jokingly referred to himself as a “Shabbos Goy,” which is a term for a Gentile who assists Jews with tasks from which they are restricted on the Jewish Sabbath. I found Darrell to be an extremely sharp person, capable of grasping the big picture as well as the details – a combination rarely found in elected officials on either side of the aisle. We have developed a strong friendship, and both of my children have worked as summer interns in his Washington office.
Issa has since risen up the ranks to now chair the Committee on Oversight and Government Relations. While the Committee’s responsibilities include management of the Postal Service, the Civil Service, and the District of Columbia, its biggest task is oversight of the Executive branch. When the House is of the same party as the President, as it was during the first two years of the Obama Administration, oversight can become lax and ineffective. So all eyes were on Issa as the Committee and its staff transferred to Republican control.
Issa took over the Chairmanship with a focus on three matters: 1) The Postal Service, 2) Countrywide Financial and its ties to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and 3) The Obama Administration’s activities, in particular TARP and ObamaCare. Then life and politics got in the way.
Issa’s original agenda was superseded when he and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) launched a blockbuster investigation into what became known as Operation Fast and Furious, the plan concocted by the Justice Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) to allow illegal guns sales, including the assault weapons that eventually landed in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. Their idea was to trace where the guns ended up. The problem was that once the guns crossed the Mexican border, the ATF had no way of tracking them.
Issa characterized the program as amazingly stupid. He asserted that the sale of thousands of weapons across the border, with no realistic objective, was a scandal worse than Iran-Contra. That is precisely why the Obama Administration and Attorney General Holder are playing dumb. The Administration clearly knew who the recipient of the guns would be, and, if it weren’t for a whistleblower and a dead Border Patrol agent, this tragic operation may have been permanently swept under the rug.
Issa’s committee has also had to examine the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) unprecedented obstruction of Boeing’s new assembly plant in South Carolina. The fact that this agency is being used in new ways to stifle business on behalf of the Administration’s union allies merits significant investigation, and Issa believes this issue will be resolved in court.
Through his position as Chair of the Oversight Committee, Issa is proposing a bill to significantly improve operations for the U.S. Postal Service. He believes the plan will cut costs by $17 billion annually, which more than offsets the current $8 billion annual deficit. He foresees some service cutbacks, but most of the savings comes from reduced payroll costs and operational efficiencies. Issa has the background to recommend reforms like this as he was a successful businessman prior to entering elected politics.
Issa appears to be totally vitalized by his enhanced role in Congress. He is a doer and likes the action. He sees himself as someone trying to make a more limited government operate better in service of the people to whom it is responsible. Having achieved great success in the private sector, he brings tools to the table that many elected officials who have backgrounds as lawyers could not possibly imagine.
The remainder of this Congressional term will prove challenging for Issa. The Administration that promised the greatest transparency in history has proven to be one of the most opaque and obstructive, and it is in Issa’s hands more than anyone else to bring the truth to light.
Not many hands are better prepared or more capable.