Republicans on the House Oversight Committee voted Friday to rebuke the White House after a top aide twice refused to testify before the panel.
Behind Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the Republicans voted to reject the administration's claims that David Simas, head of the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach (OPSO), is immune from congressional subpoena.
The vote was 19-14, along strict party lines.
Democrats have pushed back hard against the GOP probe, which focuses on potential Hatch Act — formally An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities of 1939 — violations within the administration. They note that Issa and the Republicans have no evidence of wrongdoing by Simas or his office — something Issa was quick to acknowledge Friday.
“We are accusing neither the president nor this four-person office of any wrongdoing,” Issa said, in response to questions from ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
In a letter to Cummings, U.S. Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said Thursday that she has "not received any allegations that Assistant to the President David Simas or anyone in OPSO has violated the Hatch Act.”
Issa defended the subpoena, however, citing a "past history” of abuse in office, focused primarily on the 2014 elections, that Obama just re-established in January after a three-year closure.
“Inherently, when an office is closed … and then reopened, it is probably … the most important oversight we can do is say, ‘In the past this didn't work properly; how do we know it will work properly going forward?’” Issa said.
Democrats on the panel have long-charged Issa of conducting witch-hunts against the administration. One of them, Rep. Tony Cárdenas (Calif.), took that accusation a long step forward after Friday's vote, proposing that Issa erect an above-ground pool in the committee's hearing room to conduct Salem-style witch trials.
“Voting by members has reached the limit of its usefulness. We are picking winners and losers, when it is clearly obvious that witches can only be found by dunking them in water,” Cárdenas said in a statement. “If they float they’re a witch. If they don’t, installing a pool will allow us to retrieve the non-witch before he or she drowns.”
The pool, Cardenas quipped, could be called the “Senator Joseph R. McCarthy Memorial Truth Pond.”
Issa said he'll continue to give Simas an opportunity to testify as the panel enforces its subpoena.