Congressional hearings reached their apex during the Watergate saga. For the first time, the Watergate hearings brought the committee process into people’s living rooms. It also made stars out of some of the committee members.
Few who were alive during the time (or who weren’t and are political geeks such as myself) will forget Tennessee Democrat Sen. Howard Baker’s famous question: “What did the president know and when did he know it?” For all I know, it’s engraved on his tombstone.
In the 45 years since that hearing, the committee process has been undergoing continuously diminishing returns. Most of them have been delivered into our living rooms, first via C-SPAN and now through the internet. None of these committees have accomplished anything so important as Watergate and most are complete wastes of time.
However, there are plenty of congressmen who still view these ineffectual hearings as star-making turns and chew up the scenery in the process.
In that vein, I give you Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, who decided to throw a very rehearsed hissy-fit when acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testified before the House Oversight Committee on Thursday. His performance was delivered with all of the subtlety of a performance in “Sharknado” and was every bit as grounded in fact.
The performance was disgraceful enough that it earned a well-deserved rebuke from Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the ranking Republican on the committee.
The clip in question began when Cummings, the chairman of the committee, asked McAleenan, “I guess you feel like you’re doing a great job, right? Is that what you’re saying?”
When the acting Homeland Security secretary said that they were “doing our level best,” Cummings said, “What does that mean?” Cue dramatic monologue:
“What does that mean when a child is sitting in his own feces, can’t take a shower? Come on, man!” Cummings said.
“What’s that about? None of us would have our children in that position!”
Calling the United States “the greatest country in the world” — language that doesn’t sound like it would be approved by “the squad” — Cummings said that the United States could do better.
(The Democrats aren’t going to allocate any money for DHS to do better, mind you, but I’m sure we can do better by going back to the days of catch-and-release.)
“We are the ones that can go anywhere in the world and save people,” Cummings said. “We’re better than that!”
But things took a turn when Cummings asked “whether there is an empathy deficit” among law enforcement at the border.
“I just wonder why would an agency if they have a deficiency of empathy, create a Border Search Trauma and Rescue team to try to protect people that are making this dangerous crossing and make over 4,000 rescues a year, on their own time with the collateral duty apply to be emergency medical technicians so they can help people in dangerous conditions,” McAleenan responded, according to CNN.
Cummings later clarified he was talking about the “zero tolerance” policy, but that didn’t stop Jordan from taking Cummings to task for “making ridiculous and dangerous statements” about border security.
Jordan’s rebuttal began with a photo of a Border Patrol agent helping an injured child.
“Does that look like a deficit of empathy right there?” Jordan said. “That’s the kind of stuff that happens every single day on the border, doesn’t it?”
“Right,” McAleenan replied.
The entire thing is impossible to boil down into donor email clips like Cummings’ speech was and I encourage you to watch it all.
Perhaps the most damning fact that Jordan highlighted as he castigated the Democrats for “choosing to play politics” with the border and “fabricating stories of cruelty and besmirching the hard-working civil servants protecting the border”: Most of the Border Patrol agents are Latino. There goes that whole argument on how racism leads to a lack of empathy.
And then there was this question: “Mr. Secretary, would it have helped to get the resources when you asked for them?”
“Of course,” McAleenan said.
That’s the problem in a nutshell. Democrats don’t want to fix the border crisis.
They just want us to stop enforcing our immigration laws, at which point the crisis will be declared over even though we’ll have more families attempting dangerous treks through Mexico and across the border, more people using the asylum courts for reasons they weren’t designed for, more drug smugglers and human traffickers able to cross the border illegally without any repercussions. And the Democrats would be happy about that.
“They won’t fix the asylum law,” Jordan said. “[They] won’t fix border security wall, say it’s ‘not a crisis,’ say it’s ‘manufactured,’ say it’s ‘contrived’ when it actually is a crisis!”
“What do Democrats do when they have to acknowledge a problem that doesn’t align with their politics? They look for someone to blame. Who else but the president of the United States and the hard-working men and women who work tirelessly every day trying to secure our border,” he said.
And then he noted one of the most uncomfortable facts of the whole border crisis: “During the presidency of Barack Obama, we didn’t see outrage from the Democrats then.”
Jordan also noted that “not one single so-called cage has been constructed by the Trump administration.”
Well, there goes those theories.
Hearings can be, in theory, a perfectly reasonable way to ensure that our public officials are held accountable for their actions.
When they just become a circus designed for jowl-shaking performances like Rep. Cummings’, maybe it’s time to just stop paying attention to them. Then again, when representatives like Jim Jordan can disassemble those performances so thoroughly, maybe not.
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