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Rep. Darrell Issa motions to staff members to cut off the microphone of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, March 5, 2014.

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

On Thursday Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)—chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee—told Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)—the committee’s ranking minority member—that he’s sorry for cutting off Cummings’ mic at a hearing on Wednesday before the Democrat had a chance to speak his piece.

It was part of the ongoing squabble between the parties in Congress over Republican efforts to generate scandal out of “improper” IRS review of nonprofit tax status for conservative political groups. And if you haven’t already seen the video of the incident, including Issa’s schoolyard-level “throat slash” move, signaling a staffer to disable Cummings’ microphone, watch it here:

But when it comes to the definition of the word “sorry,” Issa’s move was less an expression of contrition than an exposition of the term’s other meaning: pathetic.

Because as long as the committee chair is willing to resort to crude tactics in his efforts to tarnish the Obama administration, he’ll be hurting his party’s credibility in Congress as much as he’s damaging the president.

Despite initially getting the backup of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who said Thursday that “I think Mr. Issa was in his rights to adjourn the hearing,” Issa called Cummings to apologize after news of the incident spread and Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) took to the House floor to insist that Issa be removed as chair, pointing out that Issa’s actions violated House rules:

Not long after that, Issa called Cummings to say he was sorry but apparently still couldn’t resist referring to Cummings’ protest as a “hissy fit” in a separate interview—along the lines of Issa’s prior description of Cummings, in another hearing on the same issue, as a “little boy,” saying, “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.”

Forget the undertones of that statement for the moment and just consider that what Issa’s theatrics suggest is that his hearings are as much about blowing smoke as they are about lighting a fire under the administration.

It’s both of a piece with Issa’s frequent bickering with Attorney General Eric Holder in open committee, and indicative of Issa’s determination to keep the IRS issue alive, regardless of its significance on the merits.

The New York Times’ David Firestone thinks the reason Cummings’ mic was cut is that, up to this point, Issa “has accused the I.R.S. of targeting Americans for their political beliefs, a very serious charge for which he has produced not the slightest piece of evidence, clearly hoping that if he says it often enough, and loud enough, the message will sink in,” and Issa is frustrated that Cummings “has very effectively prevented that message from becoming accepted wisdom.”

Issa is smart enough, though, not to let this get out of hand, saying in a statement, “As chairman, I should have been much more sensitive to the mood of what was going on, and I take responsibility.”

For a party, though, that claims it’s trying to do better, the fact that it happened in the first place is pretty sorry.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.