The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Twin Paths Of Rubio And Cruz End At Their Political Perspectives

By Noah Bierman, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Edging closer to Donald Trump at the top of the crowded Republican presidential field are two men with remarkably similar biographies: first-term senators in their mid-40s from large Sun Belt states, born five months apart to Cuban American families and propelled into the Senate by tea party rage.

Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas are presenting themselves as a hard break from the past, not only contrasting themselves to President Barack Obama but also to the Republican Party of the Bushes.

Yet even as each vies to become the first Generation X president, they represent sharply different views of what that should mean. Rubio, 44, emphasizes his ability to convey conservative values to a culture undergoing rapid social and technological evolution, combined with a persistent call to engage the world more forcefully. Cruz is more directly focused on antagonizing establishment figures in Washington, appealing to an audience that feels betrayed by the country’s demographic and economic transformation.

Their colliding visions have become a crucial subplot in a Republican nominating contest that has itself evolved as a freewheeling competition for the party’s identity. Trump is the most visible and polarizing figure in that debate but could prove to be only a part of it. Cruz has taken the lead from Trump in recent polls of would-be Iowa caucus-goers, including by 10 percentage points in a survey released over the weekend.

“We’re moving on as a party. We’ve run people who come from the exact same mold recently,” said Brandon Newton, a Republican district chairman in South Carolina. “And them two,” he said of Cruz and Rubio, “both come from different backgrounds.”

Cruz, who will turn 45 next week, has positioned himself as the true outsider, even though he holds elected office, joking that he needs a food taster when he dines with fellow Republican senators and promising to alter traditional electoral norms by uniting the most conservative factions of his party.

“A lot of conservatives feel that the leaders that they have been counting on in Washington have failed to fight for them,” said Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at the National Review and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, both influential on the right. “It’s not just that they’ve lost but that they haven’t really fought.”

Despite warnings from party elders that the Republican Party needs to broaden its appeal, Cruz argues that social conservatives, tea party supporters and libertarians can win a general election if they unite behind a single candidate who excites them enough to turn out and vote. Cruz and his advisers believe the middle is shrinking in a country where an increasing number of voters get their information from partisan sources.

“Every time we listen to the voice of ‘run to the middle,’ we get clobbered,” Cruz said recently on Fox News.

Rubio, promising to turn the generational page and emphasizing his story as the child of immigrants, has pushed an aggressive foreign policy and anti-terrorism message more closely in line with Republican orthodoxy. Not ceding tea party supporters and evangelicals, his backers argue that he is the only candidate who can unite both the archconservatives whom Cruz is courting with mainstream Republicans who find Cruz’s edges too hard.

As one Rubio supporter put it last week, “Cruz’s support is deeper but at a narrower bandwidth.”

Even as Trump’s outsized personality continues to overshadow other candidates, Cruz and Rubio have been sparring with each other for weeks over immigration, Syria policy and domestic surveillance.

“Cruz and Rubio are now trying to throw elbows at each other because someone has to emerge as the only remaining candidate to take on Donald Trump,” said Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for President George W. Bush.

Cruz has tried to define Rubio as a mainstream Republican, a tricky task given that Rubio won his Senate seat by defeating a sitting Republican governor by rallying tea party supporters.

Cruz has pointed to Rubio’s previous efforts at crafting a bipartisan immigration overhaul that is unpopular among Republicans who view it as an amnesty program. Cruz’s allies are hoping that effort, since disavowed by Rubio, disqualifies the Florida senator among core conservative voters.

“Historically, there have been two major lanes in the Republican primary. There’s been a moderate lane and a conservative lane,” Cruz said on CNN last month. “In past cycles, there’s been a consensus moderate choice early on. … Look, I think Marco is certainly formidable in that lane.”

Rubio and his advisers believe that national security will remain the pre-eminent issue in the election and that Cruz has compromised traditional Republican strengths to win over libertarians. Rubio has criticized Cruz for voting in favor of a bill to limit the bulk collection of phone data as part of government surveillance efforts.

“Each time he’s had to choose between strong national defense and some of the isolationist tendencies in American politics, he seems to side with the isolationist,” Rubio said of Cruz on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. “And this is an important issue to have a debate over. It’s not personal.”

Cruz, while vowing to wage an aggressive anti-Islamic State campaign, has argued that some U.S. efforts to use military force in the Middle East have created openings for terrorists, and he warned last week against any effort to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“Toppling a government and allowing radical Islamic terrorists to take over a nation is not benefiting our national security. Putting ISIS or al-Qaida or the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of yet another state in the Middle East is not benefiting our national security,” Cruz said.

Their different paths are reflected in who is flocking to their campaigns: Cruz picked up an endorsement Thursday from Bob Vander Plaats, an influential conservative Christian in Iowa, whose organization, the Family Leader, is at the forefront of efforts to stop abortion and gay marriage. Rubio, meanwhile, won backing from Kenneth Griffin, a billionaire 47-year-old hedge fund manager from Chicago who gives broadly to education and the arts.

(Staff writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.)

©2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

 

Plan For Virginia Mosque Becomes Target Of Anti-Muslim Backlash

By Noah Bierman, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

SPOTSYLVANIA COUNTY, Va. — The zoning meeting, in a community room packed beyond capacity, was intended to focus on traffic, lighting and parking impacts from a proposed building.

But the building in question was a new mosque — and the meeting occurred four days after the terrorist attacks in Paris.

A thickly built man interrupted the discussion about stormwater runoff, saying to the small group of Muslims in the crowd, “Nobody wants your evil cult,” and “Every one of you are terrorists. I don’t care what you say. I don’t care what you think.”

The unidentified man pledged to do everything in his power to block the mosque, jabbing his finger toward one of the mosque’s trustees, a civil engineer leading the presentation, according to a video posted by the Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg.

Many groaned. But there was enough applause — and enough other comments like it — to shut down the meeting under orders of a sheriff’s deputy, and to shock the small Muslim community near historic Fredericksburg.

The incident is one of a growing number that have put American Muslims on the defensive since the attacks Nov. 13 in France. Bullets were fired at a mosque in Connecticut. Feces were smeared on an Islamic house of worship in Texas. A fake bomb was left at another in northern Virginia.

“We always see a certain amount of backlash” following an overseas Islamist terrorist attack, said Corey Saylor, who monitors anti-Muslim incidents for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “This time, however, it’s getting fueled by people who are exploiting it for political purpose. … That is essentially pouring gasoline on an already burning fire.”

President George W. Bush pointedly visited a mosque after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to defuse similar tensions. By contrast, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has asserted that, contrary to evidence, thousands of American Muslims in New Jersey cheered after the attacks. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, another GOP candidate, has said that only Christian refugees from Syria should be allowed to resettle in the U.S.

The mayor of Roanoke, Va., a Democrat, spoke favorably about Japanese internment camps during World War II to buttress his position that Syrian refugees should be blocked from entering the country.

The incident over the mosque near Fredericksburg was striking in its bluntness. Samer Shalaby, the engineer and trustee for the Islamic Center of Fredericksburg who bore the brunt of the negative comments, said he was saddened by the number of people who came to applaud the hateful comments. “I was kind of stunned,” he said.

The Cairo native said he moved here three decades ago after attending George Washington University, when there were only four Muslim families in the area. The community grew to include many professionals and small-business owners, some of whom drive about 55 miles to jobs in Washington, he said.

The community has grown more diverse, but the large Confederate flag waving near the highway exit is a reminder that the past remains in full view.

In 2000, the Muslim community built a small mosque, a spare brick building with two basketball hoops in front, across from a Goodwill store in the sprawling suburbs near downtown Fredericksburg. The mosque hardly stands out amid the strip malls, looking more like a house than a house of worship.

But the membership, now between about 250 and 300 families, feels cramped during Sunday school and other large gatherings, Shalaby said. The new building, which would be built on a 10-acre plot a few blocks away, would fit about 350 people, he said.

Shalaby said he had never experienced discrimination here. In retrospect, he believes the timing of the meeting was poor. He and other leaders have tried to emphasize their ties to the community, including work to feed the hungry and help the homeless.

In fact, members of the mosque said they had heard from hundreds of supporters, including local Christian and Jewish clergy, who have offered support.

Greg Bundrick, a retired social worker, drove 19 miles to tell the imam in person that he did not approve of the ugly words delivered at the meeting.

“It was wrong. It’s important for me to stand up and say how wrong it was,” he said, standing in the small office next to the sanctuary.

Imam Sherif Shehata gave Bundrick a hug and a piece of chocolate from a box the mosque kept on hand for well-wishers.

Swalha Craig, a Kenya native whose American-born husband converted to Islam, said she has never felt overt discrimination but does sense some sideways glances directed at her head scarf. Still, even after the frightening meeting, she considers this home.

“I got married here,” said Craig, who works as a part-time office manager for the mosque. “I love it here.”

©2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Samer Shalaby, trustee for the Islamic Center of Fredericksburg, Va., on November 23, 2015. (Noah Bierman/Tribune Washington Bureau/TNS)

Debt And Low Polls Can Be A Lethal Pairing For Candidates

By Noah Bierman, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Dropping out of a presidential race is a humbling experience.

Consider Scott Walker. The Wisconsin governor spent August and September outlining plans to remake the nation’s economy and pontificating on the global threat of Russian aggression.

Then his campaign crashed. A week later, he was back at his day job and honoring Hilda the Holstein at the state’s Cow of the Year presentation.

Over the next few weeks, several other Republican hopefuls with dwindling bank accounts and bottom-scraping poll numbers may be recapping the experience of Walker and Rick Perry, the former Texas governor who was the first candidate to quit this year’s presidential race. Like them, the other hopefuls will have to weigh the risks to their reputations, finances and political futures of staying in the race versus getting out.

Either way, their egos are unlikely to survive intact. History shows candidates are likely to push against the odds for as long as they can resist sober political facts.

“You have to rely on candidates to do their own self-assessment,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a political strategist for Mitt Romney’s two presidential campaigns who is neutral in the 2016 race. “And the problem with that is honest introspection is in short supply in politics.”

The next GOP debate, scheduled for Oct. 28, will put increased pressure on the field. As in previous debates, the candidates at the bottom of the pack will appear in a separate early session. For a time, some seemed at risk of not making even that part of the event because they did not get 1 percent support in any poll.

In the end, George Pataki, the former governor of New York; Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana; Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2012, all made the cut.

On the Democratic side, Jim Webb, a former senator from Virginia, dropped from the race on Tuesday. By Friday, Lincoln Chafee, a former Rhode Island governor and senator, also called it quits. Webb, who was polling at about 1 percent, said he may run as an independent.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley may reconsider his prospects after failing to win the bump he was hoping for in last week’s debate, falling below 1 percent in at least two recent national polls.

Money, and the risk of incurring personal debt, is the driving factor for most candidates who opt out.

“If they run up $4 million or $5 million debt, in hard money, that’s going to be hanging around their necks for a long time,” said Tad Devine, a longtime Democratic strategist who is advising the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. “You’re talking multimillion-dollar decisions every week.”

The nation is littered with former presidential candidates whose careers were weighed down by the burden of campaign debts, Devine said.

The four candidates at the bottom of the GOP pile, as well as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, each spent more money in the third quarter of the year than they raised, according to recently filed campaign finance documents.

Other factors also play a role in the decision on whether to stay or go. Some candidates may prolong time in the campaign to advance a single issue, enhance a career in television or set themselves up for a job in the next administration. They may time their withdrawal to raise the leverage of their endorsement or preserve their standing at home.

Walker, who withdrew late last month, had entered what Fehrnstrom and other consultants call a “doom loop.”

His poor performance in debates and on the campaign trail led to lower poll numbers, which made it harder to raise money from disillusioned donors. Without money, a candidate cannot afford the ads or campaign apparatus needed to push poll numbers back up and end the cycle. Walker left the race owing more than $1 million.

In addition to running out of money, Walker, 47, had to worry about his political future. Polls showed his popularity at home declining as he traveled the country and his clout within the state Legislature at risk.

Walker implored other candidates to drop out with him in hopes that establishment Republicans could unite behind one or two candidates to push back against Donald Trump, who is leading most polls. So far, his former rivals have resisted, and the field remains splintered.

Some candidates, even though low in the polls, may hope someone else who competes for the same type of voters will drop out first. Santorum and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, for example, both play to religious conservatives. Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas both have appeal for tea party supporters.

Graham is typical of a candidate who often stays in longer than his poll numbers or fundraising would justify. He is a message candidate, eager to push his party toward embracing a muscular foreign policy, and is not spending much money on ads, campaign staff or chartered air travel. By raising his profile on the campaign trail, he may improve his odds of serving as Defense secretary in a Republican administration or increase his voice within the Senate.

Yet even if the senator can stay in the race through the first two nominating contests next year — in Iowa and New Hampshire — many are betting he will withdraw before the third contest, in his home state of South Carolina. He would face embarrassment if he finished at the bottom of the pack there, and his endorsement may hold slightly more value if he withdraws shortly before the South Carolina voting.

Paul faces a related problem. Once considered a potent contender, the face of his party’s libertarian wing has fared poorly. But, unlike Graham, he is up for re-election in 2016 and may need to spend time and money at home to avoid losing his seat.

New Mexico’s former Gov. Bill Richardson said the lifeline provided to candidates by super PACs can distort the normal deliberating process and may keep several underperforming candidates in the race longer.

“Your heart tells you stay in, you’ll do better,” he said. “Your gut tells you you’ll be hopelessly in debt, it’s not the responsible thing to do.”

Richardson said he knew long before he dropped out of the 2008 Democratic primary that he would have little chance against Barack Obama.

After Obama mesmerized the crowd at a candidate forum in Iowa, Richardson told his wife, Barbara, “I think this race is over,” he recalled.

Still, Richardson stayed in until the money ran out, just after the New Hampshire primary, where he finished a distant fourth.

And even then, he was reluctant, telling supporters in his concession speech that better days were ahead in Nevada, where his Latino heritage might prove a bigger asset. But on the plane home from Manchester, N.H., his closest friend, his daughter and his top two campaign strategists delivered the hard truth. He was in debt and would need another $2 million to compete in Nevada.

“My brain trust said to me, ‘Guv, we can’t go on,'” he recalled. “And my wife was there, and she said, ‘I don’t want to go into debt.'”

The next day, he withdrew from the race.

Photo: Bobby, it might be time to leave. DonkeyHotey/Flickr

Kevin McCarthy Announces Bid To Become House Speaker

By Noah Bierman, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) formally launched his bid to become speaker of the House on Monday afternoon, telling restive colleagues he plans to share more authority if elected to the most powerful job in Congress.

McCarthy has been the favorite to win the job since current Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) unexpectedly announced Friday that he would resign at the end of next month, after withstanding years of pressure from insurgent Republicans who urged Boehner to be more confrontational with the White House.

McCarthy helped elect many of those Republicans to Congress in recent years, recruiting them to run and raising money for their candidacies. But if he wins, he is likely to face the same pressure that Boehner did to avoid compromising with President Barack Obama and other Democrats to fund the government.

The federal government partially shut down for more than two weeks in 2013 because Republicans insisted that they would not pass a budget that funded Obama’s health care plan, a condition Democrats would not meet. Congress is at risk of another shutdown this week because of a dispute over funding for Planned Parenthood.

McCarthy’s letter to colleagues saying he is running for the job indicated that he wants to show rebellious Republicans that he will at least listen to them.

In his letter, he promised to show the “courage to lead the fight for our conservative principles and make our case to the American people.”

“I am running to be your speaker because I know that the people’s House works best when the leadership you elect listens to members and respects the legislative process entrusted to committees,” he wrote. “In short, I am guided by something Ronald Reagan once said: ‘The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.'”

Though McCarthy is the favorite, arch-conservatives have yet to endorse him, with some expressing skepticism that he will be sufficiently conservative. McCarthy’s letter appears targeted at allaying those fears.

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks at the John Hay Initiative in Washington September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Armenian Hopes Crushed As Obama Decides Not To Use The Word ‘Genocide’

By Noah Bierman, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — White House officials have decided that President Barack Obama will not use the word “genocide” to describe the killings of more than 1 million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks when he commemorates the deaths Friday, the 100th anniversary of the massacres.

The decision, revealed Tuesday in a meeting with Armenian American groups, backs down from a previous Obama pledge and sparked anger from activists.

“The president’s surrender represents a national disgrace,” said Aram S. Hamparian, executive director of the Washington-based Armenian National Committee of America. “It is a betrayal of the truth, and it is a betrayal of trust.”

White House officials defended the decision as necessary to preserve the chance of cooperation with Turkey, a NATO ally, on Middle Eastern conflicts.

The Turkish Embassy, which has spent millions lobbying Congress on the issue, did not respond to a request for comment. In the past, the Turkish government has said that the mass killings do not meet the legal definition of genocide and that it would be a mistake for the U.S. to use the term. Some members of Congress have also warned that a shift in official U.S. references could hurt American foreign policy.

California has the country’s largest population of people of Armenian descent, with more than 200,000 living in Los Angeles County, according to U.S. Census data.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., who has led efforts in Congress to recognize the genocide, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision.

“How long must the victims and their families wait before our nation has the courage to confront Turkey with the truth about the murderous past of the Ottoman Empire? If not this president, who spoke so eloquently and passionately about recognition in the past, whom? If not after 100 years, when?” he said in a statement.

After the meeting with Armenian American groups, White House officials released a statement that did not use the word “genocide.” The statement from National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the U.S. would use the anniversary of the onset of the massacres to “urge a full, frank, and just acknowledgment of the facts that we believe is in the interest of all parties.”

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity to comment on a diplomatically delicate issue, said the White House expects Obama will mark “the historical significance” of the “Meds Yeghern,” as the massacres are known in Armenian.

“We know and respect that there are some who are hoping to hear different language this year. We understand their perspective,” the official said.

But, the official added, “the approach we have taken in previous years remains the right one — both for acknowledging the past, and for our ability to work with regional partners to save lives in the present,” a reference to U.S. hopes for cooperation from Turkey, particularly in the civil war in Syria.

White House national security adviser Susan Rice met Tuesday afternoon with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and urged him “to take concrete steps to improve relations with Armenia and to facilitate an open and frank dialogue in Turkey about the atrocities of 1915,” the White House said in a statement.

Hamparian said he and other Armenian American leaders learned the news at their White House meeting, which was attended by Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, and Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser.

During the meeting, which lasted just short of an hour, Hamparian said, the group was told that the U.S. would send a delegation to Armenia this week, led by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.

The delegation will also include Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who said in a statement that “I intend to call it what it was — I will call it a genocide everywhere I go.”

Roughly 1.5 million Armenians were killed starting in 1915 amid the chaotic collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Whether to use the word “genocide” to describe those killings has been a fraught political issue for years. Turkish officials base their argument that the killings do not meet the definition of genocide on the claim that no deliberate plan to eliminate Armenian populations was involved. Most historians, however, have concluded that the use of the word is appropriate.

U.S. administrations of both parties have resisted using the word out of deference to Turkey.

(c)2015 Tribune Co., Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Armenian genocide commemorative march, London, 2009. (Karaian via Flickr)

California’s Darrell Issa Loses Power With House Oversight Committee Post

By Noah Bierman, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — For four years, Rep. Darrell Issa presided over one of the highest-profile oversight committees in Congress, becoming a fixture in the national news as he took the Obama administration to task for everything from bank bailouts to corruption in Afghanistan.

Only three months ago, the California congressman unveiled a portrait of himself to hang proudly in the committee hearing room.

“Click LIKE to thank Chairman Issa for his tireless commitment to transparency and for his dedicated service to the American people,” the oversight committee Facebook page suggested as the portrait was hung.

Just days after his successor took over at the helm in January, though, the new painting vanished from the hearing room. It now hangs in a private committee anteroom, beside a coat rack and a television screen.

Its journey echoes the waning influence of the California Republican, whose confrontational style managed to wear not only on Democrats, but on members of his own party.

Issa used his position atop the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to relentlessly poke at President Barack Obama over Benghazi, the Internal Revenue Service, the “Fast and Furious” failed gun sting, and any number of topics that made for high theater and cable cameos. But Issa’s investigations often failed to show direct culpability on the part of the White House or Obama, whom he once called “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.”

Issa’s influence began to wane last year, when party leaders diverted attention from his high-drama investigation of the deadly 2012 attack against U.S. personnel in Benghazi, Libya, by establishing a new committee to focus on the incident.

Then they thwarted his attempt to secure a rare exception to the limit on how long he could lead the oversight committee. (He served one term as the committee’s top Republican, when Democrats held the majority, and then a pair of two-year terms as its chairman.)

His successor, fellow Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, campaigned to succeed Issa on a promise to run the committee differently. When he took over in January, Chaffetz replaced many of Issa’s staff members and engineered the move of portraits of Issa and other former chairmen.

“Darrell Issa didn’t do many reports,” Chaffetz told reporters in December, after Republican leaders tapped him, according to Roll Call. “(He) did big press releases.”
“It’s not the ‘Jason Chaffetz Show,'” he said at another point.

Issa, now beginning his eighth term in Congress, finds himself at a crossroads.

Despite a personal fortune that gives him a huge advantage in elections, there was little clamoring among California Republicans for him to reprise a run for the Senate seat that Democrat Barbara Boxer will relinquish after the 2016 election. Issa spent $10 million trying to unseat her in 1998 but failed to win the Republican nomination.

He appears unlikely to follow the path of one of his predecessors in the post, former Rep. Henry A. Waxman of Beverly Hills, a Democrat who left Congress this year after four decades with a legacy as a legislative titan. Two factors get in Issa’s way: The Republican Party imposes term limits on its chairmen, and many members of the party philosophically oppose the type of sweeping legislation championed by Waxman and other liberals.

Issa’s allies say he retains leverage; he is a key ally to Silicon Valley, leading a subcommittee that oversees patents. And Issa has succeeded before in surprising ways, even as he took on a highly partisan role: He worked with Democrats to oppose anti-piracy measures that opponents said would undermine free speech on the Internet.

His new committee assignments — he was also named to the House Foreign Affairs Committee in December — will put him in the middle of compelling issues.

“He’s very much going to be active and robust in policy and intellectual property issues, which is really in his wheelhouse,” said Kurt Bardella, a former aide to Issa who is now a private media consultant. Issa, who made his fortune manufacturing anti-theft devices for cars, has held 37 patents, according to his office.

Issa declined a request to discuss his plans or past performance. When a reporter approached him in a House hallway to request an interview, he refused and said that the result would be a “hit piece.”

Just a few minutes later, the committee Issa used to lead met for the first time since he handed over the gavel to Chaffetz. The top Democrat on the committee, Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, opened his remarks with a call for a “new beginning.”

“The last four years were filled with acrimony, partisanship and sometimes vulgar displays,” Cummings said. “They were a stain on this committee’s integrity and an embarrassment to the House of Representatives.”

Cummings was a principal figure in one of Issa’s most controversial moves, which occurred during a hearing last year that was devoted to IRS scrutiny given to some conservative groups’ tax-exempt status.

Issa, angry after former IRS Director Lois Lerner pleaded the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering questions, called the meeting adjourned even as Cummings tried to speak. Cummings protested that it was a “one-sided investigation” as Issa shut down the Democrat’s microphone and began to leave.

“I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America. I am tired of this,” Cummings said, his arm shaking and his words echoing through the large chamber even without amplification. The dispute, caught on video, spread widely over social media.

For many, the incident illustrated how decorum had fallen in Congress, as genteel formalities have given way to unvarnished contempt among partisans. But it specifically tarnished Issa and contributed to Republicans’ distancing themselves from him.

In a 348-page report, Issa cited a number of accomplishments from his four years at the helm of the oversight committee. They include 23 laws passed, including the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, which required federal agencies to put more detailed budget information online for public scrutiny. Issa also pointed to more than 100 subpoenas he issued — a tactic that critics have assailed as excessive — and to nearly 60 reports released.

But some of the highest-profile investigations have failed to live up to the initial hype. For example, his final investigation on the IRS targeting conservative groups failed to show evidence of White House involvement, despite Issa’s statement in 2013 that “this was a targeting of the president’s political enemies” that was discovered only after Obama’s re-election. His statement last year that he suspected former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had told former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta to “stand down” during the attack on Americans in Benghazi was not substantiated by two separate congressional reports.

Yet even some Democrats say that Issa helped Republicans make significant gains in the November election.

“There’s no question he accomplished part of his mission, which was to do damage to the president,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, a Virginia Democrat who serves on the oversight committee. “The relentless headline-grabbing, breathless subpoenas and hearings, and charges certainly served a purpose, even though there was very little there, it turns out.”

(c)2015 Tribune Co., Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Stanford Center for Internet and Society via Flickr