It seems, given the Republican Party’s descent into political theater devoid of any regard to truth or governance, that it’s time for Democrats to take a firmer hand in requiring responsible conduct from Republican members. Just as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) instituted rules on mask-wearing and metal detectors, we need rules for committee conduct.
Democrats who control House and Senate committees should consider changing the ground rules. No phones in hearings. If you are not present for most of the hearing (say, 70 percent), you do not get to vote on whatever is before the committee.
I have long inveighed against poor questioning from elected representatives. Committee chairs should put a halt to long-winded speeches. Gavel to silence a member’s rant. Insist that they follow the Jeopardy rule: Their remarks should be in the form of a question.
Such rules may be contrary to the pervasive atmosphere of comity (“my friend from the state of …”), but comity often turns into abuse of the hearings. At the same hearing on the Jan. 6 attack, infamous conspiratorialist Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) spent his time discussing an article by a notorious right-wing extremist who falsely suggested that the rioters were not supporters of the disgraced ex-president. As my colleague Aaron Blake put it, “Figuring out what happened is a valid pursuit. But it’s also possible to inject doubt based upon flimsy evidence, relying upon extreme sources … It might behoove his party to declare whether they think what he’s floating is valid, given how it appears to be snowballing right now.”
After the hearing, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), chair of one of the committees holding the hearing, went out of her way to debunk Johnson. She declared that uncontradicted testimony has shown that the uprising “was planned.” She continued: “We now know this was a planned insurrection. It involved White supremacists. It involved extremist groups, and it certainly could have been so much worse except for the bravery of the officer.”
Given the joint committee structure of the hearing, it might have been challenging for the chairs to keep order — and sanity. However, perhaps next time Klobuchar or Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chair of the other committee involved, might cut off Johnson, call his conspiracy-mongering out of order and move the hearing to relevant questioning.
Klobuchar did slam him, albeit after the hearing:
That was well-earned. Better, however, would be to prevent him and others from advancing abjectly false conspiracy theories during the hearing.
Democrats, in other words, should move to a zero-tolerance policy for the type of misinformation that had induced a mob to attack our democracy. If Johnson and others want to spread their toxic lies, they should do it on right-wing media, not perched on the committee dais.
Republicans have adopted a slothful, unserious and disrespectful attitude toward governing. Democrats cannot make them into serious, conscientious legislators, but the least they can demand is that they observe “some modicum of respect” and avoid deliberate propagandizing on behalf of white supremacists. Given the choice between phony comity and responsible behavior, let’s choose the latter.