Dems Lock Out Republicans — Literally

By Britt

Oct 21, 2009 11:39am

ABC News' Rick Klein and Matthew Jaffe report: Somebody call a divorce lawyer.

This tale has secret videotaping, a staged walk-out, and — finally this week — one side secretly changing the locks on the other.

And everyone involved is a member of Congress.

It's the latest turn in an increasingly acrimonious stand-off inside the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the House's chief investigatory committee, the panel perhaps best known in recent years for the steroids-in-baseball hearings.

The dispute was months in the making. But Republicans turned up the temperature last week by vowing to force a committee vote on subpoenaing a fresh round of documents in its investigation of Countrywide Financial, the collapsed mortgage giant.

Democrats labeled that a political stunt, designed to embarrass two key Democratic lawmakers — Sen. Chris Dodd and Sen. Kent Conrad — who got special VIP loans through Countrywide.

But rather than taking the political risk of bringing the motion to a vote, Democrats pulled off what appeared to be a stunt of their own: When the time came for the scheduled vote last Thursday, they huddled in a back room — denying Republicans the quorum they needed to take action.

Then things got interesting. Republican staff members had secretly set up a video camera outside the committee room. The camera captured a stream of Democrats leaving through a side door of the very committee room they were scheduled to be in — calling into question Democrats' claim that a scheduling conflict involving another committee meeting prevented their attendance.

Republicans put the video on YouTube, juxtaposing the empty chairs and the Democrats filing out of the room. They put it all to the tune of "Hit the Road, Jack." 

Not everyone was laughing. On Tuesday, the committee's Democrats let the Republicans know that their keys wouldn't work in the hearing room anymore. They'd had the locks changed.

Why? "Because they [Republicans] don't know how to behave," Chairman Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., told Politico. Towns' office did not respond to request for comment.

The committee had been scheduled to meet again on Thursday — assuming everyone could get inside the room. And with at least one Democrat promising to vote with Republicans, it would have been another interesting meeting.

"If only they would use their creative energy to do some actual oversight and maybe hold a hearing rather than resorting to immature tactics, but I guess we're getting some insight into what lengths they'll go to avoid addressing the Countrywide VIP issue – I'm actually embarrassed for them right now," said Kurt Bardella, spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the committee's top Republican.

Today the panel also postponed the Thursday hearing on Bank of America's controversial merger with Merrill Lynch last year – a hearing at which Issa could have called for the subpoena vote.

Democrats, a GOP source said, had asked Republicans "repeatedly this week" if they intended to call the vote at Thursday's hearing.

"Two weeks, two hearings postponed," said Bardella. "Why not use the time scheduled for tomorrow to hold a straight up or down vote on the Countrywide subpoena?

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