The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The House GOP’s sham hearings are fizzling before they even begin

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) at the Capitol on Jan. 25. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
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The GOP’s conspiracy theories and unhinged accusations work best when Republicans are in the minority, when they can throw out half-baked accusations and make leaps of logic with little consequence.

When they are in the majority, however, they must show their cards about supposed Democratic scandals. And that is already proving to be a problem for right-wing performance politicians for four reasons.

First, most voters don’t want lawmakers to spend time spinning scandals. A recent CNN poll found that 67 percent of voters (including 74 percent of independents) don’t like the way Republicans are handling their job. Seventy-three percent (including 48 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of independents) say Republicans aren’t paying enough attention to the country’s real issues. Likewise, a CBS poll earlier this month found that less than one-third of Americans want Republicans to spend time investigating President Biden. Every hearing that Republicans devote to distractions highlights their failure to tackle real issues.

Second, it is hard for Republicans to explain to an audience not already steeped in right-wing conspiracy theories what the heck they are talking about. At least the Benghazi matter and the bollixed Fast and Furious program were events worthy of oversight. The cockamamie Hunter Biden “scandal,” by contrast, is a mix of convoluted, illogical accusations, as former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa explains in a Substack post.

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In an actual hearing, unlike an interview with a captive right-wing media host, one has to explain the alleged scandal in a way that is comprehensible to those who haven’t spent hours soaking up bogus talking points. Democratic committee members will be able to channel what average voters are thinking: “What in the world are you talking about?”

Third, Republicans have a problem with evidence — or the lack thereof. The administration has already told Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the Oversight Committee, that it would not provide documents from the ongoing investigation of classified materials found at Biden’s home and office. Likewise, the Justice Department told Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who is leading the House Judiciary Committee, that it would follow long-standing practice and not turn over information about ongoing criminal probes. So what now?

Republicans can grouse all they like and even send subpoenas, but they will have difficulty getting their slim House majority to find any Biden official in contempt of Congress. Beyond holding a hearing complaining about not being allowed to muck around in pending criminal cases, there is not much Republicans can do.

Moreover, in a revealing interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Jordan couldn’t exactly explain how Democrats have “weaponized” the federal government. Consider this exchange about Jordan’s claim that the FBI has “targeted” parents:—

NBC News host Chuck Todd: Well, I want to unpack a little bit. You talk about the FBI abusing powers when it comes to parents and school boards. School board members were getting death threats. These weren’t idle things. These weren’t parents just yelling and screaming. These were actual —
Jordan: Do you know how many parents —
Todd: — death threats to elected officials. And the FBI got a tip. Should they not look into a death threat when an elected official gets a death threat?
Jordan: School board writes a letter on September 29th, five days later, the Attorney General of the United States issues a memorandum to 101 U.S. attorneys offices around the country saying, “Set up this line that they can report on.” Sixteen days later, Chuck, the FBI sends out an email to agents all across the country saying, “Put this designation on parents. Report it on the snitch line that the attorney general set up.” So all that happens. Think about it, Sept. 29, Oct. 4, Oct. 20. That all happens in 22 days. When have you ever seen the federal government move that fast?
Todd: There were actual death threats. Congressman, literally —
Jordan: I understand.
Todd: — this is —
Jordan: Chuck, but let me just finish this. Twenty-five parents get reported on that snitch line. They all get investigated. FBI shows up to their door and guess how many have been charged. How many have been charged? Zero.
Todd: Then the FBI did its job.
Jordan: Zero.
Todd: Did the FBI not do its job?

As Todd pointed out, it’s not much of a scandal for the FBI to investigate tips and not arrest anyone. Even worse for Republicans, the videos of MAGA true-believers threatening public officials are a vivid demonstration of how conspiracy theories can whip up violent rhetoric. Democrats should be happy to discuss the subject.

Fourth, there are rakes aplenty for Republicans to step on. Each time a Republican screams that the government has been “weaponized,” Democrats should be prepared to go through the litany of real GOP abuses and outrages while in power: the failure to audit Trump’s taxes, the Justice Department’s pointless John Durham investigations, GOP governors transporting of unwary asylum seekers out of state and the abusive arrests of African American voters in Florida, to name a few. Simply because these issues are not the majority’s designated topics does not prevent Democrats from talking about them in hearings.

It seems Republicans imagine their hearings will be some sort of payback for the revealing, substantive and gripping investigation conducted by the House Jan. 6 committee. But a major reason those hearings were so effective was the personnel. There were no disruptive Republicans on the panel, and there were plenty of whip-smart Democrats. Those same Democrats will be present on Republican-led committees. Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (Md.), for example, will be the ranking member on Comer’s Oversight Committee. Even the Democrats’ far-left flank should prove useful. Whatever one thinks of her politics, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), the No. 2 Democrat on the panel, has ably demonstrated her proficiency in hearings.

In addition, Democrats have set up a rapid response group, the Congressional Integrity Project, to fire back at Republicans. The group will point out which Republican officials participated in the 2020 coup attempt and which refused to testify before the Jan. 6 hearing. Knowing the media will likely give equal time to critics of the hearings, Democrats might receive plenty of oxygen to air Republicans’ dirty laundry.