Given the intensifying political fight over Rush Limbaugh's remarks about Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University activist/law student who was not allowed to testify at a February 16 House hearing on the contraceptive mandate issue, the question arises: Why didn't Republicans just allow Fluke to testify? The testimony she ended up giving at a Democrats-only meeting a few days later wasn't particularly compelling, and, had Fluke appeared before the full Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republicans could have pretty easily challenged her positions. Yet the GOP refused to allow Fluke to appear, and events have raced along since then. So why not let Fluke speak?
"The Democrats played games with us the day before [the hearing]," says a Republican committee source. "After days of asking for a witness, they waited until the last minute, the afternoon before the hearing. They asked us to invite Rev. Barry Lynn [head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State] and Ms. Fluke. We said we'll invite one, per standard procedure. We formally invited Rev. Lynn, and the Democrats, at 4:30 pm, changed their mind and said they wanted Fluke. We said too late. They told Rev. Lynn not to show up the next day."
When the hearing took place, Democrats proceeded to clobber Republicans. "Where are the women?" asked New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney as she looked at the all-male first panel for the hearing. (Two women testified in the hearing's second panel, but Maloney and her fellow Democrats ignored that.)
Issa explained that Democrats had requested Barry Lynn, that Lynn was invited, and that Democrats then retracted the Lynn request. As for Fluke, Issa said Republicans had never heard of the Democrats' last-minute choice. "I asked our staff what is her background, what has she done," Issa said at the hearing. "They did the usual that we do when we're not provided the three days and the forms to go with it. They did a Google search. They looked and found that she was, in fact, and is a college student who appears to have become energized over this issue and participated in approximately a 45-minute press conference…I cannot and will not arbitrarily take a majority or minority witness if they do not have the appropriate credentials, both for a hearing at the full committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and if we cannot vet them in a timely fashion." (Fluke is in fact a 30 year-old law student with an extensive history of activism in leftist causes.)
So the Fluke controversy was born. In a letter to committee Democrats Friday, Issa said the "aspersions directed at Ms. Sandra Fluke made by radio show host Rush Limbaugh" were "inappropriate." But Issa also accused Democrats of "failure to recognize your own contributions to the denigration of this discussion and attacks on people of religious faith." Issa again explained his handling of the February 16 hearing, complaining that Democrats "have appeared outright giddy in attempting to distort the testimony offered and purpose of the hearing."
"All of you, even the minority members who walked out of the hearing before Dr. Laura Champion and Dr. Allison Garrett testified, knew very well that the rhetorical question, 'Where are the women?' and the claim that the hearing was somehow an assault on women was disingenuous and inflammatory," Issa wrote.
So Issa had his reasons for refusing to give Fluke a spot. And indeed, as it turned out, she didn't have much to say. The entire basis of her testimony to the Democratic Steering Committee the next week was that she had "a friend" who had a medical problem that required her to take birth control pills. Georgetown's policy covers her friend's condition, Fluke said, but did not actually pay for the pills, which caused her friend to stop purchasing and taking the pills and, later, to suffer a medical emergency. It was all pretty vague, and certainly wasn't expert testimony.
But then Limbaugh entered the picture and Democrats, including President Obama himself, jumped on the issue. Could it have been avoided if Issa had allowed Fluke, an unqualified witness but one the Democrats wanted, to testify? For Issa, it was a tough choice.