A House of Representatives hearing into the scandal surrounding the Internal Revenue Service devolved into a bizarre bit of political theater on Wednesday when the committee's Republican chairman closed down the proceeding before the ranking Democrat, Baltimore Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, was given an opportunity to speak.
"We're adjourned. Close it down," Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said as Cummings attempted to make a statement into a microphone that had been cut off.
"I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America," an emotional Cummings said as Republican lawmakers left the hearing and Democrats shouted "shame."
"I am tired of this," he said. "You cannot just have a one-sided investigation. There is absolutely something wrong with that."
The exchange, which was only the latest tense back-and-forth between Cummings and Issa, captured more attention than the hearing itself. Issa had called on Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS office responsible for reviewing the tax-exempt status of political organizations, to testify about her role in the scandal. As she has done previously, Lerner asserted her Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer questions on the issue.
Issa responded by saying he "could see no point in going further" and quickly adjourned the meeting.
Cummings attempted to interject. "Mr. Chairman, I have a statement," Cummings said as Issa stood up from his chair and excused Lerner. "You cannot run a committee like this."
"We have adjourned," Issa said.
The committee, regardless of which party is running it, is often among the most political on Capitol Hill and Issa and Cummings have had frequent dustups. The most recent took place this past summer when Issa referred to Cummings, an African American, as "a little boy with his hand caught in the cookie jar."
Cummings didn't address the statement directly but some media outlets questioned whetherthe comment had racial overtones. Issa later clarified the comment.
"I took a shortcut in how I expressed it," he said at the time.
"The ranking member and I enjoy a personal relationship that is by definition strained because of our jobs but not because of how we respect each other. The press, I think, took the use of 'little boy' in a way that would certainly never come out of my thought, much less deliberately out of my mouth. And to the extent that anyone is offended, Mr. Cummings, I certainly do not want it to be you."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun