House Republicans are pressing for a change in federal law that could force Michelle Obama and future first ladies to do more of their policy work in public. But Democrats warn President Obama may take the attempt personally “as an attack on his wife.”
The GOP effort is being led by the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose initial salvo was rebuffed recently at a contentious committee markup session. Under Issa’s amendment, any government policy group that Mrs. Obama or another first spouse regularly participates in would be subject to a law requiring meetings to be announced in advance and, in most instances, public.
Rep. William Clay (D-Mo.) suggested President Obama might see the legislation as a personal provocation that could trigger a fight. “Let me… caution my friend from California that, as you’re probably aware, this president is very guarded about his family,” Clay said.
“We are trying actually to protect the historic role of the first lady,” Issa insisted, repeatedly invoking the “transparency” mantra of the Obama administration. “I believe this is open government at its finest.”
“What is protection to one person may be just the opposite to another,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) observed.
Issa’s amendment would have effectively overturned a 1993 federal appeals court decision which held that First Lady Hillary Clinton could be considered the equivalent of a federal employee.
“We should have a set of rules that future presidents, vice presidents, first ladies and spouses of vice presidents, understand what their do’s and don’t’s are. Can they have an open meeting? Can they have a closed meeting?” Issa said. “Perhaps we need to get to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for an opinion.”
Democrats were skeptical about why Republicans were pressing the issue in the first year of a new Democratic presidency. However, Issa said the GOP actually proposed changing the law early last year, when Republican President George W. Bush and his wife Laura were in the White House.
Ummm, yeah. They proposed it early last year, 7 years into the Chimpy maladministration. I guess they were afraid of Michelle Obama being First Lady, Bill Clinton being First Gentleman, or Cindy Lou McCain meeting with her drug dealers.
Issa ultimately withdrew his amendment, which he had offered on a bill aimed at closing loopholes in the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Aides told POLITICO that he plans to reintroduce the spousal provision either as an amendment to another bill or as freestanding legislation.
A spokesperson for Mrs. Obama, Katie McCormick-Lelyveld, said this week that her office had no comment on the proposed legislation.
(Video at link above)