House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is leading a delegation of lawmakers to Central America described as a “rival” effort to a recent fact-finding trip by a working group of lawmakers appointed by Speaker John Boehner.
The group departs tonight and will visit Guatamala, El Salvador and Houndaras, the three countries from which most of the tens of thousands of illegal alien children streaming across the southern U.S. border are originating.
Besides Issa, GOP Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Blake Farenthold (R-TX), and Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI) will be attending. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) is the delegation’s sole Democratic member.
Last weekend, the Boehner-appointed working group, led by Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), traveled to Guatemala and Honduras, meeting with the presidents of both countries, as well as the U.S. Southern Command General John Kelly on the Mexico-Guatemala border.
“We spent almost two hours with the president of Honduras and his entire cabinet and his first lady,” said Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), a key conservative lawmaker who is part of the working group and attended the Granger-led trip.
The Issa-led group is looking to put a greater emphasis on investigating “on-the-ground” conditions.
“I think we’re looking at something a little bit different. What we’re looking at is the conditions within those communities… Not so much an official business with the ambassadors – which we’ll see tonight, and have dinner with – but more get a better feel for the conditions on the ground,” Gosar said.
A Republican source familiar with the trip planning, but who is not attending, described it as a “rival” effort to the Granger-led delegation and said its members were hoping to get their own look at the facts rather than rely on information from a group of lawmakers appointed by the Speaker.
And one lawmaker familiar with the trip suggested its intent was along similar lines.
“I think it is always appropriate in Congress to verify facts and circumstances for yourself and not rely on the word of others. There are too many hidden agendas,” said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who was asked to attend but couldn’t due to a doctor’s appointment.
A spokeswoman for Issa dismissed talk that the chairman’s trip was a “rival” effort to the Boehner group’s.
“This is purely a fact-finding trip. The members are meeting with several groups, including government officials, as wells as NGOs and religious groups who work on repatriations,” Becca Watkins, a spokeswoman for Issa said.
The trip, she said, was approved by Boehner’s office.
“On an issue this complicated and important, it’s best for as many Members as possible to have as many facts as possible,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said.
Salmon said the Granger delegation had ample exposure to the situation on the ground in Honduras and Guatemala.
“We met with NGOs, we met with our State Department people in both places, we met with some of the groups that were funded by USAID that were dealing with the violence stuff. In Honduras they had set up about 50, for lack of a better term, like Boys and Girls Clubs, to give kids an opportunity to get off the street,” he said.
“They don’t know what we brought back,” he added.