Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., have had explosive disagreements over the handling of the investigation in the Internal Revenue Service targeting of the Tea Party, but there is no racial tension between them, said one of the members of the congressional committee that they lead.
Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., said that he is "disappointed" with the Congressional Black Caucus for demanding House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, strip Issa of his chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
"I’m disappointed that this has become an issue between the Congressional Black Caucus and Issa because I can assure you this is not racially motivated, and the implication that is provided to imply that this is some sort of racial thing is absolutely not consistent with Issa and his character and who he is," Lankford told the Washington Examiner. "So I would hope that they’re not trying to imply that based on that group within the Democrats responding to that."
The controversy arose from Issa's adjournment of a committee hearing, including shutting off Cummings' microphone as the ranking member tried to make a statement, when former IRS official Lois Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
"I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America," Cummings shouted. "I am tired of this."
“On behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus and the people we represent, I urge you to take immediate action to address the recent deplorable conduct of Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa,” Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, wrote to Boehner on Thursday. "Mr. Issa is a disgrace and should not be allowed to continue in a leadership role."
Lankford gave the backstory to the Issa-Cummings fight, based on his conversation with Issa. "His feeling was we’ve already done opening statements, he had already worked out ahead of time with Cummings, ‘we’re not doing opening statements, we’re doing questions,' " he said. "We go up, he starts the questions. It becomes obvious she’s not going to answer any of these questions. We had learned, by the way, just minutes before the hearing that she had decided she was going to take the Fifth. So he’s going to go through and explore all the different areas, are you going to take the Fifth in all these areas, if she’s not going to answer questions, we shut down the hearing and we’re done, because this wasn’t about making statements."
The opening statements had already technically taken place during a previous hearing that had not formally been adjourned. Thursday's meeting was a continuation of that previous hearing. Cummings tried to get around their agreement by making a statement while asking a procedural question, Lankford said.
"Now, did he overreact? Maybe," Lankford conceded. "But that was a previous agreement he had already made with Cummings: We’re not doing statements, we’re doing questions. She’s not going to answer any questions, we’re done."
Lankford said that he hoped Cummings, whom he described as a "very honorable gentleman," would not go along with such a suggestion.
"That’s just not who Issa is, that’s not what it is, and so, I wouldn’t have any problem if Democrats on a whole across the conference said, ‘Hey, strip him of his chairmanship,’ but it just feels wrong, I guess, to do it that way," he said. "I would hope that’s not their implication — I’m not saying it is — but that feels wrong to me."
Cummings refused to make race the issue in an interview with CNN's Erin Burnett, although he was very upset with Issa.
"I just told you that he disrespected my colleague [Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass.], and Mr. Tierney is white," he said. "I am not going to get caught up in the racial piece, because that simply ends up being a distraction and it becomes the headline."
On Thursday, the House voted 211-186 to table a resolution condemning Issa that was offered by Fudge, the CBC leader.
Cummings released a statement late Thursday night that he had accepted a personal apology from Issa for the incident.
"My sincere hope is that as we move forward, we will respect the opinions of all members of the committee, we will proceed in a deliberate and considered manner to obtain the facts, we will refrain from making accusations that have no basis in fact, and we will seek resolution rather than unnecessary conflict," Cummings said.