Darrell Issa and Donald Trump
Rep. Darrell Issa greets Donald Trump at the beginning of a campaign speech in San Diego in 2016. Photo by Chris Stone

By Raoul Lowery Contreras

Darrel Issa, a longtime free trader who made millions of dollars importing Taiwan-manufactured computer boards for his Viper car alarms, was elected to the House of Representatives in 2000. He is retiring from the House this year, but not from government.

President Trump has appointed Issa director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, an agency charged with encouraging and facilitating American exports.

While some media outlets suggest that Issa is a strong supporter of the President, Trump’s antipathy towards the trade agreements the United States has operated under for decades is at odds with Issa’s own views. Issa made millions — he is reputed to be the richest man in the Congress — by importing circuit boards and wiring from Taiwan that could not be manufactured in the United States.

The political story behind Issa’s appointment is interesting because though President Trump is a political outsider, it’s clear that the old order of “establishment” Republicans still run the Washington show.

Having been a consultant for Issa in his first campaign for the House, I kept my contacts up to date with the Congressman and people close to him. The following is a great political story that ends with a new beginning in his career as an official in the Trump administration.

Issa entered congress in 2000 as a free trader and immigrant-worker advocate who created and introduced work permit legislation allowing American farmers to hire foreign workers to enter and work legally for up to seven years with renewals. Issa was familiar with Mexican workers as he hired many of them in his Vista car-alarm factory.

As a working newspaperman at the time, I conducted many interviews with his Mexican workers. They loved him as a boss. When the 1992 recession hit, Issa did not let any of his workers go; he cut some hours across the board, but every employee was kept on payroll.

Raoul Lowery Contreras

After his election to the House, Issa quickly made his way to the chairmanship of the House Oversight Committee. When Republicans smashed their way into House control under President Obama in 2010, Issa bulldozed his way into prominence by aggressively leading this relatively obscure House committee into a series of investigations of Obama’s actions.

In the 2016 Presidential primary campaign, Issa supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, campaigning for him in New Hampshire. He didn’t throw his support to Donald Trump until Trump had sewn up the nomination.

A photo of Issa shaking hands enthusiastically with the then-nominee Trump came back to haunt him in his district, the 49th, in the 2016 election. Issa barely won with a 1,600-vote margin provided by his Orange County Republican voters. That was the smallest incumbent margin of victory in the country.

Issa immediately began pursuing a high-level job in the new Trump Administration. He knew, or thought he knew, that he would have a struggle in 2018 if he ran for re-election. Word is Trump promised him a real political plum of a job. Word also is that Trump asked House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy what they thought of his appointing Issa to a top level job at the Department of Commerce.

The House leaders counseled the President not to appoint Issa to a job that vacated his congressional seat. They told the president that they needed every vote in the House in order to kill Obamacare and to pass tax legislation. They were not sure a Republican could win a special election to replace Issa. The truth is that neither Ryan nor McCarthy were close to Issa or cared if he took a big job in the administration.

Issa thought he was in for a job and passed word to the state legislator that represented 60 percent of the 49th district, retired Marine Colonel Rocky Chavez. The colonel commissioned a poll that showed most district residents knew him well enough for him to run in a special election. He waited as did his friends and supporters. Issa told Chavez he would support him.

The appointment didn’t materialize, Issa announced he would not run for reelection. When candidates announced for his seat, he snubbed Chavez and instead supported right-wing Republican Diane Harkey from Orange County. Issa kept after Trump and got his job.

He’s leaving Congress just in time. It appears that Democrats might sweep their way into majority control of the House and have an outside chance of winning the Senate.

Ironically, if Democrats do win the Senate, they could reject Issa’s appointment if the current Republican Senate does not confirm him. If so, he would be just one more unemployed millionaire.

Raoul Lowery Contreras is a political consultant and the author of “The Armenian Lobby & American Foreign Policy” and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade.”  His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.