An unruly day in Congress. Plus, a question about hearings.
Today’s read: 6 minutes.
Republicans storm the SCIF, a question about preparation for hearings, and insane California gas prices.
Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann
An important note.
Today’s Tangle was completed around 11:30am EST. Tangle typically hits your inbox Monday-Thursday, around lunchtime (EST). You probably won’t receive an issue of Tangle on Monday, as I’ll have a crazy day commuting from San Diego to New York City and wrapping up the Frisbee tournament I’m competing in. If you don’t hear from me, don’t worry: we’ll be back on Tuesday.
When I landed in California, the first gas station I saw was selling gasoline for $4.79 a gallon. FOUR DOLLARS AND SEVENTY NINE CENTS! I couldn’t believe it. Today, the Wall Street Journal dropped a story about why gas is over $4 a gallon California and around $2 a gallon in states like Texas. Click.
What D.C. is talking about.
Yesterday, some 40 House Republicans tried to force their way into a closed-door impeachment inquiry. The move broke longstanding Congressional decorum, potentially violated federal law and left Capitol police looking around for security breaches. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a staunch Trump supporter, tweeted: "BREAKING: I led over 30 of my colleagues into the SCIF where Adam Schiff is holding secret impeachment depositions. Still inside - more details to come.” The “SCIF” is the House Intelligence Committee’s Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF). It’s a private, highly sensitive, secure facility where cell phones and all sorts of other tech are not allowed. Amidst outcries that Gaetz was tweeting from the SCIF, he later clarified the tweet was sent by staff.
What Democrats are saying.
Via The Wall Street Journal: “The GOP lawmakers’ entry created a chaotic and tense scene, as the Republicans passed by a series of cubicles where, for security reasons, lawmakers are required to store cellphones and electronic fitness trackers, shouting and screaming over the two guards standing watch, according to Rep. Gerry Connolly.”
The move was illegal, unhinged and totally without merit, Democrats say. They also believe it was solely to stop the testimony from being heard, which Republicans knew would be devastating for Trump. Adding to the absurdity, others were sharing a BuzzFeed News article, which pointed out that at least 12 of the House members were actually on the Oversight or Foreign Affairs committees, meaning they have been “been allowed to sit in on all depositions held in the SCIF in recent weeks.” For years, Republicans have tried to frame themselves as the party of law and order. But in the Trump-era, Democrats continue to insist that they have thrown out any preconceived notions about their law-abiding nature — and this is no different. Bringing cell phones into the SCIF, and staging these absurd demonstrations to stoke up fear about the “secrecy” of the investigations, is just more evidence of how off the deep end the party is.
What Republicans are saying.
The House Republicans involved in the fracas are calling it a “protest,” saying they are effectively raising awareness about the secretive nature of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into Trump. Three House panels were going to hear from Laura Cooper, a Pentagon official, but the Republicans who stormed into the hearing delayed it for hours. Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, a senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, realized that the lawmakers had brought cellphones inside and began gathering them. “I don’t condone the phones in the room,” Conaway told reporters. But he said, “that was an inadvertent mistake” and described what the Republicans were doing as a civil act of disobedience. “This investigation is being run in a manner that frustrates Republican members of the House,” Mr. Conaway said.
Rep. Fred Keller, who BuzzFeed called out as one of the members that could have sat in on the investigation but chose to “storm the room,” said that he was “acting in solidarity with those members of Congress who are not allowed in the hearings, to review testimony, or read transcripts of this secret inquiry.”
According to a Bloomberg report, President Donald Trump knew in advance of the plan and said “he wanted the transcripts released because they will exonerate him,” Bloomberg reported. Other Republicans laughed off claims that the move threatened national security.
There is very little precedent for impeachment inquiries since there haven’t been many in American history. The law is vague about how these inquiries should work, and so it is no surprise that Democrats are doing everything they can to own the narrative. One legitimate precedent-based gripe Republicans have is that Democrats never had a formal vote to launch the impeachment inquiry, as has been done in the past.
Democrats have justified the closed-door hearings by saying they want to interview people individually so they can’t coordinate their responses. That mostly checks out. They have already gotten contradicting testimony that may lead to bringing people back for follow-up testimony. But even as Democrats have tried to keep this testimony private, plenty of Republicans have been sitting in on these hearings. It’s not like they are just being conducted by Democrats alone.
There are three committees involved in the impeachment hearings, and Republicans are on all of them. If you were just watching some of these politicians’ Twitter accounts, you’d think it was just Democrats in the room — but that simply isn’t so. If you want any more proof that this was just a political stunt, look no further than Fox News, which reported Republicans were actually asking to be arrested, hoping for the optics of being frog-marched through the Capitol. What is true is that the closed-door testimony has been leaking like a sieve, and seemingly all the leaks have been damaging to POTUS. So it’s not hard to see why Republicans are taking this tact and doing their best to frame the hearings as secret and unfair. As I’ve noted in Tangle before, what we’re witnessing now is not the trial — it’s most like an indictment or the evidence-gathering part of an investigation. If Trump’s presidency is ever on trial it will be in front of the Senate and the public.
Your questions, answered.
Q: I watched several hours of the [Mark Zuckerberg] Zuck testimony before the House Financial Services Committee. It seems that reps on both sides are incredibly uneducated on the topics they were supposed to be questioning him on and they're more focused on getting viral soundbites than actual answers. They usually ask "gotcha" yes-no questions and are often not even giving time for a response. Why is that? Is there anything we can do about it?
- Jay, New York, NY
Tangle: Thanks for writing in, Jay. Unfortunately, your impression of hearings these days is pretty right on. It’s not that the sides are always uneducated on the topics they’re covering — but Congress is woefully uneducated on social media and tech. If you’ve ever slogged through a hearing about foreign policy or taxes, you’d be pleased to find that the topics covered are right in the wheelhouse of many members who have served overseas or drafted tax law. Unfortunately, when it comes to Facebook, Twitter, social media or tech, one thing comes into play: age. The average age of Members of the House at the beginning of the 115th Congress was 57.8 years; of Senators, 61.8 years, some of the oldest in U.S. history. Not to be ageist, but generally speaking, the generation that has grown up on the internet knows it a bit more intimately and naturally than the ones who are adapting to it. And it shows in these hearings.
One might recall last year, when Zuckerberg first testified in front of Congress, the endless articles, videos and lists highlighting all the awkward or bizarre moments from the hearings. In that hearing, Sen. Orrin Hatch asked Zuckerberg how Facebook makes money, apparently unaware they run ads. Other Senators referenced their grandchildren who “love Facebook.” Yesterday was no different.
There’s also the simple fact that, like you said, representatives are almost more interested in scoring political points than getting to the bottom of anything. 99 percent of Americans will only watch parts of the hearings covered by the news, so if a representative does something newsworthy — or has one of those punchy “gotcha” moments — it ensures some national press coverage.
As for their preparation, reps questions are almost always prepared by their staff and teams. That’s one of the strengths of AOC, who has made a name for herself as a strong force in these hearings. Earlier this week, AOC took to Twitter and asked for suggestions on what she should ask Zuckerberg. Typically, when a member of Congress asks weak or pointless questions, it’s their staff that is criticized — not the member.
I’m not sure there’s anything you can do, aside from taking the extraordinary effort of reaching out to your representative and imploring them to ask certain questions. I do know people who are experts in their fields that have gone to D.C. or called up a member of Congress to share information that could be important for a hearing like this, so that’s always an option for you. I think most Americans underestimate how open members are to feedback from constituents. They typically have huge staffs to handle people like you who want to get involved somehow — so perhaps you want to give that a shot. You can contact the Senate here or find your House member here.
- 197. The number of Republicans in the House.
- 49. The number of Republicans eligible to attend impeachment hearings (25%).
- 41. The number of Republicans who participated in Rep. Gaetz’s “act of protest.” (21%).
- 13. The number of those Republicans who are eligible to attend hearings (32% of the 41. Info via The Washington Post’s Philip Bump).
- $500 million. The amount of money Microsoft pledged to affordable housing in Seattle.
- $1 billion. The amount Facebook committed to Bay Area housing.
- 3.6 million. The size, in square miles, of the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer this fall.
- 10.6 million. The size, in square miles, of that same hole in 2006, during its peak.
A story that matters.
After an Ebola outbreak in West Africa, several countries took steps to assess how prepared they were to contain deliberate or accidental biological health threats. None of the 195 counties, including the U.S., were prepared for a pandemic. In fact, the U.S. ranked 19th of the 195 countries examined, mostly thanks to low confidence in the government and the risk of social unrest. The report makes the prospect of biological warfare or a drug-resistant disease outbreak a very concerning prospect for a country like the United States. You can read more from The Washington Post here.
Have a nice day.
Ten tons of trash has been removed from Mount Everest, according the French press. All across Everest, tourists have been shedding waste products like water bottles and food containers for years. “Empty cans and gas canisters, bottles, plastic and discarded climbing gear” pollute the mountain. But Nepal’s government recently responded to outcry over the trash by launching a six-week clean-up with mountaineering groups and volunteers. You can read more here.
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