Rep. Darrell Issa appears at Golden Hall on Election Night 2016. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Former Rep. Darrell Issa’s nomination to lead the U.S. Trade and Development Agency has languished for almost a year.

When the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations failed to consider Issa at the end of the Legislative session in January, the nomination was sent back to the White House. Trump was then forced to re-nominate Issa two weeks later, and there’s been no movement on the nomination since.

Of course, Issa is not the only Trump affiliate awaiting confirmation. Nearly a fifth of all presidential nominations that require Senate approval are still open. More than 130 key positions — including inspectors general for the EPA and the departments of Defense and Education — have no nominees at all.

The Washington Post blamed “poor planning and underqualified or controversial nominees,” reporting that Trump is taking longer to nominate candidates and the Senate is taking longer to vet them.

Republicans, in the meantime, have blamed Democrats for the delay — even as they themselves hold up select Trump nominees to extract concessions from the White House. In April, GOP leaders agreed to limit the amount of time given to floor debates ahead of final confirmation votes (as the Democrats did during the Obama years).

Issa is caught in the middle of this procedural combat. But it probably doesn’t help that he pissed off a lot of powerful Democrats while he was in Congress, leaving him “virtually friendless on the left,” according to Politico. As the chair of the House Oversight Committee, he made a name for himself hounding the IRS for its alleged targeting of conservative groups and the Obama administration over Benghazi.

Issa once raged against the abuses of executive power. He now spends his free time praising the president, calling the Trump administration a “model of cooperation,” and arguing on national television that the House of Representatives lacks the oversight it claims. Lawmakers don’t have the authority, he said, to unearth Trump’s tax returns without a compelling legislative reason. The tariffs on Chinese goods are a “shared pain” in the short-run, he said, but they’ll force that country to become a “fair trader” over time.

It was a much clearer defense of the president’s trade policy than the one he offered earlier this year at a meeting of the Albondigas of North San Diego County, a nonpartisan network of political consultants and activists. (They call themselves meatballs.) Though still a member, Issa surprised the group when he showed up unannounced and took questions.

As Ernie Cowan, a former Escondido mayor and outdoors columnist who helps organize the meetings, remembered, Issa responded to a question about tariffs by noting “there are differences of opinion in the Trump administration.” Issa didn’t come out for or against the tariffs at that meeting, said two people in attendance, but he spoke of the tariffs in connection to Peter Navarro, an economic adviser to Trump who’s run unsuccessfully for a number of offices in San Diego. The titles of Navarro’s books include “Death by China” and “The Coming China Wars.”

“That’s Navarro’s one-note song and he does have Trump’s ear,” Issa told the group, said Cowan. “Whenever you see tariffs that’s Navarro talking.”

A spokesman for Issa did not return my request for interview.

A Progressive in a Swing District

The changing politics of the 49th Congressional District are really something to behold.

Until Trump came along, it was a reliably conservative place. Republicans still maintain the edge in voter registration rolls, but the district is now represented by Rep. Mike Levin, who proudly waves the banner of progressivism, and he won the race to succeed Issa by nearly 13 percentage points.

CityBeat’s Show in Progress, a political podcast hosted by Matt Strabone, considered this curious dynamic. Levin, a former environmental attorney, said he was not interested in scoring short-term political points at the expense of his values.

Levin recently introduced a bill requiring that the sales of all new passenger vehicles sales be zero-emission by 2040 and defended his proposal last week in the Union-Tribune. He pointed to a similar program in California that’s intended to expedite the production of cleaner cars.

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, a Republican, offered a counter-position in the U-T, arguing that the federal government shouldn’t intervene in the marketplace and pick winners and losers in the auto industry.

Local Leaders Threaten to Audit Tri-City Over Psych Beds

From VOSD’s Lisa Halverstadt: Supervisor Jim Desmond’s office says Tri-City Medical Center and Palomar Health are working on a plan to boost behavioral health services in North County. That comes after fellow Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath sent officials a letter warning they planned to seek a state audit if nothing changed.

In the letter, Fletcher and Boerner Horvath demanded Tri-City, which suspended its behavioral health beds last year citing costs and regulations, come up with plans to replace the lost services.

Tri-City leadership called the letter disappointing, and Desmond, whose district includes the medical center, complained that it could derail talks between county officials and area hospitals to provide more treatment for the vulnerable. He also complained, according to the U-T, that Fletcher was overstepping his bounds. Fletcher has argued that behavioral health is a region-wide problem that leaders aren’t taking seriously enough.

Desmond spokesman Miles Himmel said Tri-City and Palomar officials agreed in a meeting Tuesday with county officials to pursue plans to open new crisis units for less than 24-hour care, inpatient psychiatric facilities and transitional beds for discharged patients.

Health and county officials still need to officially sign off, Himmel said.

Encinitas to Keep Emails for Two Years

Although California requires cities and counties to keep copies of public records for at least two years, many municipalities in North County don’t. Officials argue that the law isn’t clear on whether emails actually apply under the state public records law.

Encinitas has one of the shortest email retention policies in the region, giving itself the authority to delete email communications at 30 days, but that’s about to change. Threatened with a lawsuit, the City Council last month directed staff to rewrite its policy so that emails will be kept for a minimum of two years.

“The more transparency for the public the better,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said, “and it’s important the media be the watchdog of government and that we do show people what we’re doing.”

Assemblyman Todd Gloria is also carrying a bill in the Legislature that would prevent municipalities from arguing around the state’s two-year records retention rules. Assemblywoman Marie Waldron voted against the bill, saying it would create a “burdensome, unfunded mandate for local governments.”

Stuff We’re Working On

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Jesse Marx

Jesse Marx is Voice of San Diego's associate editor.

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