Issa's dumb Secret Service farce: Oversight hearing devolves into typical circus

Rep. Issa convened a hearing on the Secret Service during recess. What political points were there to be scored?

Published October 1, 2014 2:09PM (EDT)

Darrell Issa          (AP/Charles Dharapak)
Darrell Issa (AP/Charles Dharapak)

We have no doubt that members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, are just as rattled as everyone else by recent revelations about the Secret Service failing on multiple occasions to protect the White House. The Secret Service has long held a reputation in the popular imagination as a purely unfuckwithable agency, comprised of the country's finest ex-military and law enforcement officials. We now know that, well, they are in fact moderately fuckwithable.

What we also know, though, is that there's absolutely nothing that members of Congress hate more than even briefly reconvening during a recess on any matter of any importance. Congressional leaders wouldn't even vote on a new war in two countries because, hey, the recess was coming up -- whatcha gonna do? Not enough ticks on the clock.

So it came as a great surprise yesterday when members of Rep. Darrell Issa's House Oversight Committee took a break from their dumb campaigns for their dumb reelections to hold an emergency Secret Service oversight hearing, which was also dumb. As you, I, the American people, and members of Congress all understand, there's no better way to stall progress on an important issue than for members of Congress to hold a hearing about it. Then again, smashing some hapless bureaucrat to pieces is always a fine way to rack up a few more points before voters head to the polls. An emergency hearing, indeed.

A hearing on the Secret Service, or Obamacare, or the IRS, or food safety, or trucking regulations -- It Does Not Matter -- also can and will be used as a platform to press any pet political button. Let's run through a few examples from yesterday!

Guns are cool, "political correctness" is bad

Rep. Jason Chaffetz doesn't like this pussyfootin' around about "not shooting people." Anyone who jumps over a fence should face "overwhelming force" -- fuck 'em. Jason Chaffetz is tough.

“I want it to be crystal clear: You make a run and a dash for the White House, we're gonna take you down,” Chaffetz said at the House Oversight Committee hearing. “The message should be overwhelming force.”

Chaffetz also told National Review that the Secret Service's hesitancy to use lethal force on each and every person stems from a desire to be "politically correct."

ISIS fearmongering

As we know, ISIS is on the march towards the White House and is now a mere 7,000 or so miles from taking the capital of the United States. "Members of the committee raised concerns that organized terrorist groups like ISIS could similarly infiltrate the White House," according to Think Progress. (On a related note, we encourage you to read this hysterical piece by some hysterical guy that somehow got published on the Washington Post's website. "While Congress has not declared war on ISIS and al-Qaeda, U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq – as well as the threats of radical Islamist groups against Americans and our country – make it clear we are indeed at war," he writes. "In wartime, we must call on our military forces to assist the Secret Service in protecting the president and White House against attack." He then recommends that former Rep. Allen West be named director of the Secret Service.)

Promoting local businesses

Congressman John Mica of Florida wins the prizes for both most dingbatty performance at the hearing (I've got two words for ya: Spiky. Plants.) as well as most shameless promotion of a local business.

“If someone opens a window or a window is broken at my house, I have an alarm,” Rep. John Mica (R-FL) explained in questioning Secret Service Director Julia Pierson about how an intruder was able to jump over the White House fence and run into the president’s residence before being apprehended by agents in the East Room.

Mica then held up a sign displaying the logo for ADT, a Florida-based home security system.

“Have you ever heard of these guys?” he asked to chuckles from the gallery. “It is not very costly. You can subscribe, that can be installed. It is a simple technology device, a company, a private system can do that,” he said, before adding, “we could put some vegetation barriers, simple things, like how about Spanish bayonet? You jump that fence and you get quite a greeting when you hit the ground, inexpensive invitation — vegetation barriers.”

Look at me, I'm being more outraged than you

There's at least one moment in *every* oversight hearing with some troubled bureaucrat that goes like this: the troubled bureaucrat has been coached to act calmly and professionally in a congressional hearing. Members of Congress, meanwhile, appear at hearings to put on theatrical performances. Inevitably, then, some member of Congress will ask the troubled bureaucrat, Why aren't you so calm instead of really angry? It was Gerry Connolly's turn yesterday.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D., Va.) said, “I don’t sense from you, Director Pierson, a sense of outrage about that. A sense of mission that you want to reform and correct this cascading set of mistakes that led to, potentially, a catastrophe for the United State.”

Ms. Pierson said that’s not the case. “We all are outraged within the Secret Service of how this incident came to pass, and that is why I have asked for a full review,” she said. “It’s obvious that mistakes were made.”

Great show, everyone. Got your licks in. Now by all means, return to your precious campaigns and tell all the voters about how you righteously hollered at some devil-woman in Washington.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

MORE FROM Jim Newell

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2014 Elections Congress Darrell Issa Gerry Connolly House Jason Chaffetz John Mica Scandal Secret Service