House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) sent a letter to the panel’s Democrats today, telling them that they need to contribute to a greater level of civility in the HHS contraception mandate.
Sandra Fluke, a third-year Georgetown Law student, appeared before the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on Feb. 16 after Democrats complained that no women testified at an Oversight hearing on the mandate (Issa reminded the panel’s minority members that they walked out before Dr. Laura Champion and Dr. Allison Garrett testified).
Radio-show host Rush Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” over Fluke’s support of copayment-free birth control. Oversight Committee Democrats, led by Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), wrote Issa on Thursday asking that the chairman “strongly condemn” Limbaugh’s statements.
“As the Chairman of the Committee that first attempted to silence Ms. Fluke and prevent her from testifying, you are in a unique position to speak out now on her behalf and to join us in condemning, in the strongest possible terms, this very public and very malicious attack on all women who share her views,” the Democrats wrote.
Issa fired back with a two-page letter today noting that Democrats have appeared “outright giddy in attempting to distort the testimony offered and the purpose of the hearing.”
But the main purpose of his response was to issue a challenge to the panel’s Democrats.
“While your letter raises important concerns about these inappropriate comments and the tone of the current debate over religious freedom and Obamacare, I am struck by your clear failure to recognize your own contributions to the denigration of this discussion and attacks on people of religious faith,” Issa wrote. “To help restore the civility of this discussion, I propose that you join me in a broader condemnation of the attacks on people of faith, the false and incendiary claims made about this Committee’s efforts to examine the threat to religious freedom, and the regrettable personal attacks that have come from individuals on both sides of the issue.”
Issa also noted that witnesses from his hearing and his staff — “particularly female staff” — have been subjected to “intense and disgusting accusations and insults — ‘hag,’ ‘traitor,’ and numerous references to anatomy” by phone callers.
“While I have no control over outside voices, I and other Republican Members of the Committee have not engaged in the personal smears against Ms. Fluke,” Issa said.
He reminded Democrats that they had the standard opportunity to offer witnesses at the hearing, requested two, and the customary single witness for the minority was invited. At the last minute, Issa said, they withdrew the chosen witness and wanted the other one — Fluke — to appear instead. “This last-minute request to add a non-clergy member to the panel could not be accommodated, and the minority instead chose to politicize the situation and use it to raise campaign cash,” the chairman wrote.
“While I do not agree with many comments that have been made during the effort to examine the constitutionality of Obamacare’s mandates on individual freedom, including the ones by Mr. Limbaugh, I find your narrow focus on this particular comment to be self-serving and dismissive of other inappropriate comments and attacks on Americans of faith,” Issa wrote.