The final questioner at Darrell Issa’s early morning town hall on Saturday turned out to be Mike Levin, an environmental attorney and climate-science advocate who had announced his campaign to defeat Issa in 2018 only days before. On the Facebook livestream, it was a little difficult to make out his question. Levin stated his name and occupation, then Issa, who had by far the very loudest mic, interrupted him. Out of the two talking over each other, Levin was heard to say, “I’m a constituent! [True, he lives in San Juan Capistrano].” Finally, Issa drowned him out and bellowed, “Ask your question, young man!”
“Why do you blindly follow Trump in gutting the EPA and [ignore] science?” Levin hollered back, followed by general uproar.
Issa regained control, saying, “Mark, you are a candidate for congress, this is not a campaign event. If you are fortunate enough to go to congress—the dialogue—you’ll go through…” Then another outburst made Issa pause, something he promised to do at the outset. Basically using the ground rule to keep order, as the pauses ate up the clock. Someone in the crowd must have mentioned Scott Pruitt, because Issa snapped, “The Senate confirmed him, I didn’t.”
Then the congressman began a narrative about the first Earth Day when he was a camp counsellor and that he recognizes the need for clean water and food, but that he will never be a one-issue candidate. A statement that seemed to be the first blow against his future rival on the campaign trail.
Earlier, Levin, who expressed surprise he was even let into the Junior Seau Recreation Center in Oceanside for the forum, had reminded Issa he’d sent him a book on climate science, and asked if he’d read it. Issa said, “I never got your book, [dramatic pause] Why don’t you give it to me now.” Levin walked up to the 6-foot-high stage and handed a copy up to Issa. A very gentlemanly parry/counter-parry.
Issa finished Levin’s question and the first town hall saying he would support sensible aspects of the EPA’s mandate. After being introduced at the outset, Issa’s first words were on the offensive: “Whether you are inside or outside this district …” To which the crowd robustly objected. Almost every single person whose question number was called, introduced themselves as members of the district. Questions were asked on immigration/ag jobs, mental health coverage, catastrophic illness, the IRS’ unrestrained power, the tax cuts in Paul Ryan’s plan that directly benefit the congressman (he said all his money is in mutual funds so he’s not in conflict, and that taxes go up, taxes go down).
On health care, Issa only wanted to speak about his own big-pool plan, but finally one citizen simply couldn’t take it, and pleaded, “I don’t want hear about your plan. How will you vote on Ryan’s plan?” Issa responded, “I read Indivisible. I know you want a yes or no answer.” And as he did much of the morning, he wouldn’t commit, only saying, “I will keep working on fixing ACA.” He touted himself as a rare member of congress who had been a business owner, struggling mightily until he had at least 100 employees to negotiate with health insurance companies with any power. “The employer and individual mandate can’t be stripped away. I won’t tell you I won’t vote if that’s gone … but I’ll keep fighting.”
The most bizarre exchange occurred when a member of the state bar and self-proclaimed patriot told Issa she had been assaulted by one of his bodyguards, who ripped away her very small sign saying “Investigate Russia Now.” Issa dismissed her First Amendment violation claim, apologized, went on and on about the established sign rules. “They committed a criminal offense against me.” she said. “Thank you very much,” replied the congressman. “We’ll go on to somebody that doesn’t have a pending lawsuit.”
The second town hall was altogether rowdier than the first, with Issa dealing with “what’s banging on the side door”—though that racket couldn’t be heard over livestream. In response to “Are you confident [Trump] has the mental stability to protect our National Security?” he began to answer about his recent proximity to the “football,” which pissed off the crowd. In regards to the president’s unfitness for responding to a sudden North Korean threat, he would only say, “If there is ever a vote, I will vote my conscience. I will take it very seriously.”
He said 45 wants Mexico to build a wall, but he wants Mexico to build a sewage-treatment plant so its sewage doesn’t wash up on our beaches. He then boasted of reminding 45 many times how active and vital Mexico’s role has been in border safety, but claims a dual fence is great and that he has a fence at home, which is beneficial to his dog. This was in response to the constituent who claimed she was among the weekly Tuesday morning protesters at his office. The Rancho Santa Fe resident asserted she is not a paid protester. For the most definitive moment, while speaking on trade relations with Mexico, he interrupted himself to venture an answer to a question no one asked on BAT [border adjustment tax]: “I will tell you today that it won’t work; I’m going to fight it with every bone in my body.”
Issa stated he believes, unlike many in his party, that abortion is settled, and that women’s health issues are a lot more involved than that. Mentioning his Johanna’s Law from 2007, which required a government info campaign on women’s cancers and promoted screenings, he then promised as he had at the first session, not to defund the Violence Against Women Act. Though he said the words Planned Parenthood somewhere in that answer, he didn’t say anything rememberable on it role or future.
Anticipating the final question would be another doozy, the inky-haired politician said, “The last question from the earlier session was from an candidate for this office.” “I’m not a candidate, but I’m a cancer survivor ..” began the last query, which resulted in Issa bantering about carrots and sticks, but ended by him stating emphatically that these elements from ACA must be kept: kids staying on parents insurance longer, no lifetime caps, pre-existing conditions remain insurable and portable. She finished her question with, “When are we going to have another town hall so we can keep the dialogue going?” “Gotta finish this one first,” he said, sounding pooped out, as 11:30 approached.
Throughout, the congressman demonstrated he’s quite practiced at beginning answers with a personal anecdote that purports to prove his empathy for the issue. Attendees often balked at this approach, while taking every opportunity to remind their rep they were actual constituents and not paid protesters.
Lisa Black proofreads the dead-tree edition of the Weekly, and writes culture stories for her column Paint It Black.