House bores into Obama’s Africa troop deployment plan


The chair wants voters to help members ask probing questions at hearings. (Sarah L. Voisin/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Most recently, adopting an e-mail variant of talk radio call-in shows, members are using constituents’ questions to quiz hearing witnesses.

Take, for example, last week’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Obama administration’s decision to deploy about 100 U.S. troops to Central Africa to help battle the terrorist Lord’s Resistance Army.

Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), obliged to listen to a number of members’ introductory blathering about how vicious the LRA is, moved things along about as well as could be expected.

Then, near the end of two-hour and 15-minute hearing, with only a handful of members left, she called on Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) to quiz assistant secretary of defense Alexander Vershbow and principal deputy assistant secretary of state Donald Yamamoto on the deployment, praising him for using questions from regular folks “submitted through our committee’s Web site, which connects our constituents more directly” with the committee’ work.

Marino, however, going one step further, said he would use questions from folks in his own district in northern Pennsylvania.

“So the questions I’m going to ask are going to be repetitive,” he said. Indeed they were, having been largely addressed, fully and completely.

“But if you could answer them in a different light,” that would be great, Marino said. Maybe they could use different words this time to answer the same questions? Answer in Spanish or Russian?

“First question comes from Sharon,” he said, who wanted to know “who will be payng for this troop deployments, and what is the anticipated cost, and how many troops will be involved for how long?”

“From Titus: ‘How will U.S. forces” deal with ‘development needs?’”

Then “From Michael: ‘What are the Europeans and other allies doing?’”

Then “Greg” had a question. Then “Danielle.”

“This is like speed-dating,” Vershbow quipped. And about as superficial. Surely the members could spend their time doing better things, like fundraising?

On the other hand, why not have all the questions submitted by e-mail or maybe Twitter? Wouldn’t even need hearings that way.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

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