CONCORD — California Republican Darrell Issa opened his speech at Monday night’s Lincoln-Reagan Dinner saying he was not there as a candidate.
“I came here to hopefully shape the debate for 2016 — not join it — but shape it,” the congressman told the audience, which filled a banquet room at the Grappone Center. “I did so in part because over the last five years, I’ve had the distinction and dubious honor of overseeing an administration that doesn’t do the fundamentals of government well — but wants to grow government and expand it in new areas.”
The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was the keynote speaker at the Lincoln-Reagan Dinner, a fundraiser sponsored by the Concord and Merrimack County GOP committees. While returns to the state are likely between now and the first-in-the-nation 2016 New Hampshire Presidential Primary, Issa said to expect his role to remain focused on helping the campaigns of other candidates.
“My war chest is in pretty good shape, but the NRCC was out-raised by the Democratic Congressional Committee. That’s part of what we have to do is play catchup with the Democrats because President Obama is quite a fundraising machine,” Issa said before his speech. “I came here to shape the debate on the questions that will be asked of the candidates that come here. If I achieve that goal, I’ll be very satisfied.”
Issa had $3 million cash on hand in his re-election campaign war chest as of Dec. 31, according to forms filed with the Federal Election Commission. He spent about an hour shaking hands and posing for photos before Monday’s $50-per-plate dinner.
Issa earned cheers when he mentioned the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act website as well as the IRS scandal over allegations that the agency was targeting political groups that had applied for tax-exempt status.
He said for Republicans to succeed in the 2014 mid-term elections as well as the 2016 presidential campaign, the GOP should concentrate on core conservative ideals such as reducing the role of government, and not get bogged down in social issues.
“I’m a proud Republican because I believe that the Democratic Party is incapable of reining in the executive branch. They are incapable of the reforms that are necessary. But the Republican Party as it stands today is also unprepared to do so,” he said. “I’m a social conservative, make no bones about it. My values to the core are more conservative than Democrats and most Republicans. But I also understand that our founding fathers agreed that our values came to Washington, but not our religion — that principles came to Washington, but are always secondary to the articles of the Constitution.”
Issa also spoke of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi; the Republican has been a strong critic of the White House’s handling of the attack. He said before his speech that the recent report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, represented progress, but more information is out there.
“The failure both of the State Department and the Department of Defense was pretty well delineated, but they’re still glossing over a lot of the pre- and post-Benghazi areas that we’re working on now,” Issa said. “I think Sen. Feinstein put out some of the facts in a way in which the administration is going to have to stop denying parts of Benghazi.”
Benghazi came up again as Issa took a few questions from audience members after the speech. Issa said he will continue to push for more answers. He said he is repeatedly asked when Congress will get to the bottom of the attack on the embassy. He offered a simple answer that received a rousing cheer.
“I will get to the top of Benghazi and that’s where we have to go,” he said.