April 18, 2024

House committee erupts over cross-examination of witnesses

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Democratic lawmakers didn’t hold back their anger Thursday at a House hearing about social media and censorship when a pair of Republican witnesses delivered testimony and left without being questioned.

The shouting began after Sen. Eric Schmitt (R), the former attorney general of Missouri, and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) testified before the House Judiciary select subcommittee on the weaponization of the federal government about what they claimed was the Biden administration’s effort to censor conservative voices online. After the two spoke, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the subcommittee chairman, dismissed them.

“We’ll let you move on to your other responsibilities and we’ll get to our next witnesses,” Jordan said. Democrats immediately interrupted, asking why he wouldn’t allow them to ask questions as Schmitt and Landry stood up and left the room. Democrats then tried to have the two witnesses’ testimony struck from the record.

“We aren’t able to probe the veracity of their statements, the truthfulness of their statements,” Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) said. When Jordan told him, “You will be given your five minutes here,” Lynch replied, “They’re not here,” referring to the witnesses. “They’re absent,” he said, and they “scurried away, with your complicity.”

Jordan, speaking over Lynch, said: “They have not scurried away. They were dismissed like all witnesses.” As the two men traded remarks, Lynch fumed: “You can’t find two people to defend their statements. That’s pretty disgraceful.”

At times, the shouts and crosstalk was so fast that the C-SPAN camera recording the hearing could not show each person who was talking. At one point, a woman’s voice could be heard saying, “If allowing them to leave is not weaponization, I don’t know what is, Mr. Chairman.” A male’s voice responded, “Yeah, right.”

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) agreed to the creation of the select subcommittee as a concession to the hard-right faction of his conference in the deal he struck to secure the votes to become speaker. The panel has faced criticism, even from some on the right, that its work has been lackluster and unfocused.

Jordan said at the hearing that it was common practice to have current or former members of Congress testify without staying for questions.

Russell Dye, his spokesman, said in a statement, “It has been a long practice of the Committee to allow current and former Members of Congress to present an opening statement without taking questions,” noting that Democrats recently had Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) speak to the committee without taking questions.

Democrats said the comparison was inappropriate. Lynch said that the witnesses on Thursday may have presented “false” information and that “I would like the opportunity to cross-examine those witnesses.” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said Landry is not a member of Congress and, therefore, “is not entitled” to the kind of courtesy Jordan described.

Even by today’s low standards for congressional decorum, the hearing stood out for its rancor and animus. Kyle Herrig, executive director of the Congressional Integrity Project, a Democratic-leaning watchdog group, said in a statement that the hearing was “an embarrassing farce. Two of the Republicans’ witnesses didn’t even stick around to defend their lies, aided and abetted by Jim Jordan.” Jordan and the Republicans on the subcommittee, Herrig said, “are afraid of the truth.”

Dye said Democrats had put “on a partisan charade” in response to a routine congressional practice.