Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the newly designated chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was front and center on Wednesday during a hearing on the rash of Secret Service breaches of security. He demanded to know why no one at the agency has been punished or fired for misleading Congress and the public about the extent of the problems.
With Acting Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy in the witness chair, Chaffetz complained that the Secret Service’s communications director initially told reporters after a Sept. 19 White House fence jumping incident that the intruder was apprehended just inside the North Portico doors and was unarmed. As it turned out, of course, the man had a small knife with him and made it as far as the ceremonial East Room before an off-duty agent wrestled him to the ground.
When Clancy acknowledged no one has been disciplined for that or other serious lapses, Chaffetz curtly responded, “Until you actually live by your own codes and you hold people responsible and accountable, you’re going to continue to have this problem.
Chaffetz, 47, a media-savvy political up-and-comer with strong Tea Party ties, will be the new face of the House oversight committee come January, succeeding Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is stepping aside because of House term-limit rules. A dogged government watchdog, Chaffetz has taken a leading role in the probe of the Secret Service’s failings to adequately protect the president and his family.
He has also been aggressive in probing the administration’s response to the deadly September 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya – even after acknowledging that he’d voted to cut funding for embassy security.
While he is certain to be a thorn in the president’s side for the rest of Obama’s second term, stylistically Chaffetz will be quite different from the blustery, combative Issa, who engaged in angry exchanges with Attorney General Eric Holder, once cut off the microphone of the ranking Democrat on his committee, and issued nearly 100 subpoenas for documents and testimony – more than the previous three chairmen combined.
Chaffetz shrewdly curried favor with top GOP leaders in his campaign to succeed Issa. That meant, among other things, traveling to Colorado, New Hampshire and Iowa to raise money for Republican candidates, and snagging former governor Mitt Romney for a major fundraiser in Utah, as Politico reported.
Moreover, Chaffetz signaled early on he’d bring a much different – and presumably less bruising – management style to the job. He said that while he has the greatest respect for Issa and views him as a mentor, “I’m a different person [and] would take a different approach.”
Chaffetz won the leadership steering committee’s endorsement for the chairmanship earlier this week. House Republicans will ratify that decision in January, when the new session begins.
Since he took charge of the committee in 2011, Issa – a former businessman and the richest member of Congress – has been the House GOP’s chief investigative point man and has put administration officials though the ringer. He spent years drilling into the Justice Department’s botched “Operation Fast and Furious” gun-running sting operation targeting Mexican gun cartels, which led to the killing of a U.S. border agent in 2010.
Issa repeatedly accused Holder of trying to detract his committee’s investigation into “Operation Fast and Furious,” and the House voted in June 2012 to hold Holder in contempt for refusing to cooperate with Issa’s investigation. Issa also mounted a vigorous investigation into security lapses at the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, before the attack on that facility on Sept. 11, 2012, seeking to implicate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And he and his investigators helped expose the IRS’s targeting of conservative political organizations that created endless headaches for the White House.
While critics say there was always more sizzle than steak to Issa’s attacks on the administration, an aide to the congressman this week cited a handful of important reforms that stemmed from his oversight efforts. Those include the DATA Act, requiring federal agencies to provide transparency in government spending figures; pension reform; and online copyright protection.
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