Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) on Wednesday likened House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to Joseph McCarthy, the senator who famously accused several Democrats of being Communists during the “Red Scare” period in the 1950s.
McGovern was speaking on the House floor about Issa’s effort to bring contempt charges against Lois Lerner, the IRS official who has refused to testify to Congress about her role in the IRS targeting scandal.
“We’ve been down this road before. We’ve seen this kind of witch hunt steamroll through this very Capitol,” McGovern said. “But not even Joseph McCarthy was able to strip away an American citizen’s constitutional rights under the Fifth Amendment, as Chairman Issa is trying to do.”
“This exercise that we are engaged in today is nearly identical to the actions of Senator McCarthy,” he added. “It was wrong then, it is wrong now. This is sad, because it demeans this House of Representatives.”
McGovern was debating a resolution the House is expected to pass to find Lerner in contempt of Congress for failing to answer questions about the IRS scandal. Lerner appeared in front of Issa’s committee in 2013, first giving an opening statement but then pleading her Fifth Amendment right not to testify and incriminate herself.
Issa’s committee voted that Lerner had waived her Fifth Amendment right by offering the opening statement first. Earlier this year, Lerner returned to the committee and was informed that her failure to testify could bring contempt charges.
Lerner refused to testify again, and the resolution up for a vote Wednesday would formally hold her in contempt once passed by the House.
Members were also considering a second resolution today that calls on Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute Lerner.
The GOP resolution has led to a furious and heated debate between the two parties on whether a court would uphold the House’s finding of contempt. Democrats have said Republicans are overreaching and are wasting time by advancing a resolution that will be struck down in court.
But Republicans say the opinions of those in Congress are just that, and it makes sense to pass the resolution and let the courts make a finding.
“If the contempt vote passes, it’ll place the issue into federal court,” Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.) said on the House floor. “That’s the appropriate step because that’s where a dispute between these two branches is supposed to reside. The judicial branch is the arbitrator between the executive branch and legislative branch when it comes to issues like this. We should let the process take place.”
Issa himself argued on the floor that the intent of the resolution is to get a court to confirm that Lerner must return to Congress and finally answer questions from Congress.
House members were debating a rule governing floor debate on the resolution, which was expected to pass on a party-line vote Wednesday afternoon. Passage of the resolution itself was expected early Wednesday evening.