Erin Burnett Asks Democrat If Darrell Issa Should Lose His Chairmanship

On Thursday's OutFront, CNN's Erin Burnett teed up Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings to call for Rep. Darrell Issa's ouster as chairman of the House Oversight Committee.

After a hearing where former IRS chief Lois Lerner dodged questions on the scandal she is at the center of, CNN joined NBC in focusing its outrage instead on Issa, who cut Cummings' microphone when the latter began railing against the proceeding. Burnett called that a "new low" for Congress on Wednesday, and then on Thursday she relayed the call for Issa's removal from the Congressional Black Caucus.

"Calls tonight for the removal of a powerful congressman from his leadership post. So Democrats are demanding House Speaker John Boehner remove Republican congressman Darrell Issa. He's the chairman of the House Oversight Committee."

Burnett played right into the Democratic playbook. Here was her first question to Cummings: "Should Congressman Issa lose his chairmanship because of that?" She was referring to Issa cutting his mic.  

And then Burnett speculated, in front of Cummings, whether Issa was even sorry:

BURNETT: Now, have you – obviously, sounds like you haven't spoken to Chairman Issa.

CUMMINGS: I spoke to him briefly today.

BURNETT: How was that? Was it civil? It doesn't sound like he apologized.

If that wasn't welcoming enough, Burnett asked if Issa had a "pattern" of insulting Cummings:

"You mentioned this isn't the first time this happened. You're talking about an incident with the chairman cutting off a mic a couple weeks ago. It's also not the first time you and Chairman Issa have had run-ins with each other. Over the summer, he faced some heat for what many called an inappropriate comment. He used the quote, referring to you as a little boy with his hand caught in the cookie jar. Some people questioned the use of his word boy. They said that there was some sort of racial motivation in that. Now, obviously, the Congressional Black Caucus is coming out and asking for him to step down as chairman of this committee. Do you think that there is a pattern of disrespect to you, specifically, from Darrell Issa?"

That soft interview followed Burnett's outrage from the previous day, where she decried Issa's move as a "new low" for Congress. Even Democratic strategist Paul Begala laughed at that stretch: "But is it a new low? Please. Come on. You must not have been a history major."

And Burnett even resorted to quoting Media Matters to ask if Issa wasn't being "blatantly dishonest":

"Cummings was specifically criticizing Issa for releasing evidence to Fox News but not to the committee. So, choosing to go to the media first. And, in fact, saying that – Issa saying that Lerner was specifically targeting these tax-exempt groups, these conservative groups. Media Matters has obtained the emails that Issa used to make that point, and in fact says they show Lerner specifically instructed colleagues not to target groups because of their political leanings. So is he being blatantly dishonest?"

Below is a transcript of the interview:

ERIN BURNETT: Calls tonight for the removal of a powerful congressman from his leadership post. So Democrats are demanding House Speaker John Boehner remove Republican congressman Darrell Issa. He's the chairman of the House Oversight Committee. It's a very powerful position. And in a letter to the Speaker, the Congressional Black Caucus said Issa, quote, "abused his authority" at a hearing yesterday on the IRS. In that hearing, he clashed with the Democratic ranking member of the committee, Elijah Cummings. Let me play for you exactly what happened.

(Video Clip)

Rep. DARRELL ISSA (R-Calif.): I can see no point in going further. I have no expectation that Ms. Lerner will cooperate with this committee. And therefore we stand adjourned.
 
Rep. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-Mary.): Chairman, I have a statement. I have a procedural question, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Chairman, you cannot run a committee like this. You just cannot do this. This is, we're better than that as a country. We're better than that as a committee. I have asked for a few minutes to ask –

I want to ask a question. What are we hiding? What's the big deal? May I ask my question? May I state my statement?

ISSA: You're all free to adjourn, but the gentleman may ask his question.

Thank you.

CUMMINGS: If you will sit down and allow me to ask a question, I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America! I am tired of this!

(End Video Clip)

BURNETT: Joining me now the man at the center of the exchange, you see him there, Congressman Elijah Cummings. And Congressman, good to have you with us.

CUMMINGS: Good to be with you, Erin.

BURNETT: Should Congressman Issa lose his chairmanship because of that?

CUMMINGS: That's going to be up to the Republican caucus. I would hope that they would look at the tape that you just showed and see that that is no way to run a committee. But I leave that up to them. That they'll make that decision. But I would hope that Speaker Boehner said today that he thought that Chairman Issa was acting appropriately, and I was shocked to hear that because, clearly, you cannot have a situation where the minority is silenced so that – and prevent it from speaking one syllable. That's what Issa was trying to do. Preventing the minority from speaking one syllable at a hearing. It doesn't work that way. That's not the American way and that's not the democratic way.

BURNETT: Let me just play for our viewers what Speaker Boehner said today to defend Congressman Issa. Here he is.

(Video Clip)

Rep. JOHN BOEHNER (R-Ohio), Speaker of the House:  From what I understand, I think Mr. Issa was within his rights to adjourn the hearing when he did.

REPORTER: Do you approve the way he acted and are you prepared to say you're not going to replace him as chairman?

Darryl Issa is the chairman, he's done an effective job as chairman. And I support him.

(End Video Clip)

BURNETT: That's pretty declarative.

CUMMINGS: Yeah. I mean, again, that's up to them. But I got to tell you, I'm hoping that Speaker Boehner will, again, look at what happened, and I cannot imagine a Democrat chairman cutting off the mic of a Republican. I cannot imagine it. And I would never do it. I think that I respect my colleagues, all of us representing over 700,000 people. I respect their voices, and I want to hear their voices. I will fight to hear their voices.

BURNETT: Now, what do you think caused Congressman Issa to do this? Obviously he was frustrated, he says, because Lois Lerner who was formerly the IRS was testifying, and she was just taking the Fifth, right? Just taking the Fifth and not saying anything. That's why he'll say he did what he did. But why is the Congressional Black Caucus calling for him to step down? It sounds like you're saying you support that, you're being careful with your words, I understand that. But, go ahead –

CUMMINGS: Erin, let's be clear. It's questionable –  nobody seems to know what Chairman Issa wants. It seems as if there's an effort to draw this thing out to the 2014 elections in November. And, so, come on. He could have gotten information yesterday and he refused to get it. And shut me off. Shut me off completely. And then he said, the reason why he shut me off, is basically that he didn't like what I was saying and he didn't like what he thought I would be saying. Come on, please.

BURNETT: Now, have you – obviously, sounds like you haven't spoken to Chairman Issa.

CUMMINGS: I spoke to him briefly today.

BURNETT: How was that? Was it civil? It doesn't sound like he apologized.

CUMMINGS: He has not apologized. I didn't expect him to apologize. I didn't. This is not the first time that this has happened. Congressman Tierney of our committee was shut down – his mic was turned off a few weeks ago, the same kind of activity.

BURNETT: You mentioned this isn't the first time this happened. You're talking about an incident with the chairman cutting off a mic a couple weeks ago. It's also not the first time you and Chairman Issa have had run-ins with each other. Over the summer, he faced some heat for what many called an inappropriate comment. He used the quote, referring to you as a little boy with his hand caught in the cookie jar. Some people questioned the use of his word boy. They said that there was some sort of racial motivation in that. Now, obviously, the Congressional Black Caucus is coming out and asking for him to step down as chairman of this committee. Do you think that there is a pattern of disrespect to you, specifically, from Darrell Issa?

CUMMINGS: Erin, I just told you that he disrespected my colleague, Mr. Tierney, and Mr. Tierney is white. 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.
 

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center