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The Rock, the Hard Place and the Man in the Middle

As 'an Arab American Who Grew Up Delivering Poultry for a Rabbi,' San Diego-Area Congressman Darrell Issa Is Facing a Telling Post-Sept. 11 Political Dilemma: 'So Who Am I?'

September 01, 2002|FAYE FIORE | Faye Fiore is a Times staff writer based in Washington, D.C.

his 3 o'clock appointment is on the other side of the Capitol. Most members take the sleek electric subway across campus. Not Issa. True to his car-worshipping California roots, he heads for the garage. There in a front-row space sits his beloved Lexus. With its master still 20 paces away, the car starts up, Harry Potter-style. The air conditioner is humming by the time he gets in. He punches in his destination--Hart Senate Office Building--and a soothing female voice on the navigational system instructs: "Turn left at the first light.... "

"This," Issa proudly explains, "is what got me here."

His fortune was born of his passions--cars and gadgets, like the little button on his key chain that starts the engine from a block away. So far in his life, there haven't been too many obstacles he couldn't outwit. But this latest one is a whopper. Very un-Issa-like, he begins with modest goals. "It's a very small role I play," he says of his Middle East efforts. "When I go into the region, I am educating members of Congress one by one, two by two, helping them understand there is opportunity there. And every time you have a visit where leaders there understand a little bit more about our Congress, it makes it easier for them to accept some of the things we might do without taking offense.

"I try to be an out-of-the-box thinker and there have to be some solutions. I may not be the one who comes up with them, but seeing what is possible, talking to as many people on all sides of the issue, maybe I can help move the process that will lead to peace."

The Lexus glides into the Hart driveway.

"Very nice car, sir," the guard coos.

Issa pulls into the parking space, another gadget guiding him along so he doesn't bump the curb.

Beep, beep, beep, beeeeeeeeeeeep. A perfect landing.

Now if only he could invent a button for peace.

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