First, most voters don’t want lawmakers to spend time fabricating scandals. A recent CNN poll found that 67 percent of voters (including 74 percent of independents) disagree with the way Republicans are doing 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 problems. Similarly, a CBS survey earlier this month found that less than a third of Americans want Republicans to spend time researching President Biden. Every hearing Republicans devote to distraction highlights their failure to address real issues.
Second, it’s hard for Republicans to explain to an audience not yet steeped in right-wing conspiracy theories what the hell they’re talking about. At least the Benghazi affair and the bloated Fast and Furious program were events worth watching. The cockamamie Hunter Biden scandal, on the other hand, is a mix of convoluted, illogical allegations, as former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa explains in a Substack post.
In a real hearing, unlike an interview with an imprisoned right-wing media host, one must explain the alleged scandal in a way that is understandable to those who have not spent hours sucking up false talking points. Democratic committee members will be able to channel what average voters think: “What the hell are you talking about?”
Third, Republicans have a problem with evidence — or the lack of it. The administration has Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the Oversight Committee, already told it would not provide documents from the ongoing investigation into classified materials found in Biden’s home and office. Similarly, the Justice Department told Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who heads the House Judiciary Committee, said it would follow a longstanding practice of not passing on information about pending criminal investigations. So what now?
counterpointHow the new GOP House panel could target a real threat to democracy
Republicans can grumble all they want and even send subpoenas, but they will struggle to get their narrow majority in the House to find a Biden official who despises Congress. Aside from holding a hearing complaining that they shouldn’t mess with pending criminal cases, there’s not much Republicans can do.
Furthermore, in a revealing interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Jordan failed to explain exactly how Democrats have “armed” the federal government. Consider this exchange about Jordan’s claim that the FBI “targeted” parents:
NBC News host Chuck Todd: Well, I want to unpack a bit. You talk about the FBI abusing power when it comes to parents and school boards. School administrators were threatened with death. These were not empty things. These weren’t just screaming and screaming parents. These were real —
Jordan: Do you know how many parents –
Todd: — Death threats to elected officials. And the FBI got a tip. Shouldn’t they investigate a death threat if an elected official receives a death threat?
Jordan: School board writes a letter on Sept. 29, five days later, the United States Attorney General issues a memorandum to 101 U.S. law firms nationwide saying, “Set up this line for them to report on.” Sixteen days later, Chuck, the FBI sends an email to agents across the country saying, “Put this name on parents. Report it on the snitch line the Attorney General has set up. So that all happens. Think about it, September 29, October 4, October 20. That all happens in 22 days. When have you ever seen the federal government move so 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 are reported on that hotline. They are all being investigated. The FBI comes to the door and guess how many have been charged. How many have been charged? Zero.
Todd: Then the FBI did its job.
Todd: Didn’t the FBI 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 believers threatening government officials are a vivid demonstration of how conspiracy theories can spark violent rhetoric. Democrats would love to debate the subject.
Fourth, there are plenty of rakes for Republicans to step on. Every time a Republican screams that the administration is “armed,” Democrats should be prepared to sift through the litany of real GOP abuses and misdeeds while in power: Trump’s failure to check taxes, the pointless Justice Department John Durham investigations, GOP governors transporting unwary asylum seekers out of the state, and the abusive arrests of African-American voters in Florida, to name a few. The simple fact that these issues are not the preferred topics of the majority doesn’t stop Democrats from talking about them in hearings.
It appears Republicans envision their hearings as some kind of reward for the revealing, substantive, and gripping investigation conducted by the House’s Jan. 6 committee. But a major reason those hearings were so effective was the staff. There were no disruptive Republicans on the panel and there were plenty of smart Democrats. Those same Democrats will be present on Republican-led committees. Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (Md.), for example, will be the most senior member of Comer’s Oversight Committee. Even the far left flank of the Democrats should be helpful. Whatever people think of her politics, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), the No. 2 Democrat on the panel, ably demonstrated her prowess at hearings.
In addition, the Democrats have created a rapid response group, the Congressional Integrity Project, to fire back at the Republicans. The group will identify which Republican officials participated in the 2020 coup attempt and who declined to testify before the Jan. 6 hearing. Knowing that the media will likely give equal time to critics of the hearings could give Democrats plenty of oxygen to air the Republicans’ dirty laundry.