Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting congressional representative for the District of Columbia, angrily sputtered during a congressional hearing Friday that the White House should not be held up to scrutiny, saying that there was no right to know what it was doing behind closed doors.
"You don't have a right to know everything in a separation-of-powers government, my friend. That is the difference between a parliamentary government and a separation-of-powers government," Norton said during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing.
It was, to put mildly, a significant departure from the more traditional liberal stance that openness and transparency are must to prevent abuses of power by government officials. Instead the leading advocate for statehood for the District of Columbia literally argued that even the congressional committee charged with oversight shouldn't be asking questions in the first place.
She made the comments while protesting the committee's Republican majority for voting to ignore a claim by the White House that David Simas, director of it's Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, was immune to a congressional subpoena to testify. Republicans believe the office is being used a political campaign operation, a violation of federal election law.
Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., noted he was not alleging any wrongdoing by Simas, but there was a history of violations involving that particular office in prior administrations that justified requesting his testimony.
Under President Obama, the White House has asserted sweeping executive powers, including the right to ignore pretty much all congressional inquiries. The administration has regularly ignored subpoenas from congressional committees.
Holmes was clearly down with that. She called Issa's subpoena a "showcase fishing expedition." She went on to argue that the Constitution's separation of powers specifically gives the people who work directly under the chief executive immunity from subpoenas. "The president's immediate advisor is not an agency and this is not a matter of policy," she said, before going to further clarify that we "don't have a right to know" everything that the administration does.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., top ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, thanked Holmes for her comments.
"I associate myself with your comments," Cummings added, thus making it clear that he doesn't believe the public has right to know what is going on inside the White House either.