WASHINGTON -- The latest hearing on the Internal Revenue Service's scrutiny of tea party and other groups turned heated Thursday, with House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) comparing his Democratic counterpart, ranking member Elijah Cummings, to a "little boy."
The testy exchange came after Cummings, a 62-year-old African-American congressman from Baltimore, challenged past insinuations by Republicans that the White House was behind the IRS targeting. Cummings was picking up on testimony from two IRS witnesses who both said they knew of no evidence of political motivations in the enhanced scrutiny, which also included some progressive groups.
But Issa took issue with Cummings, denying that he had implied the orders came from the highest office in the land and insisting that he only said the targeting came from Washington.
Issa interrupted at the start of another member's remarks to express his "shock" at Cummings.
"I'm always shocked when the ranking member seems to want to say, like a little boy whose hand has been caught in a cookie jar, 'What hand? What cookie?' I've never said it leads to the White House," Issa said.
In fact, he has pointed to the Obama administration and went so far as to call President Barack Obama's top spokesman, Jay Carney, a "paid liar."
Later at the hearing, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said that since Carney had suggested the case was limited to local officials -- including, Chaffetz indicated, one of the current witnesses, Elizabeth Hofacre, who reviewed tea party cases in an Ohio IRS office -- "I do think the White House is now engaged" in the scandal.
Issa quickly added, "The gentleman is entitled to his opinion."
UPDATE: 4:41 p.m. -- Issa later walked back his remarks, saying he "took a shortcut" in using an expression from his youth.
"I want to make it very clear that when I talk about the 'little boy putting his hand in the cookie jar' ... that is something that I grew up with, and it is intended to be about a small child, and in no way is the use of 'boy' or 'little boy' to mean anything else,” he said.
Issa denied that he would even think some of the pejorative associations that could come with those words, let alone say them in such contexts.
Cummings appeared satisfied with the explanation.
"I really do appreciate your words, and of course they were taken out of context and twisted, or whatever,” he said.