May 17, 2024 - Politics & Policy

"Dumpster fire" hearing spurs groans about Congress' new low

Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, wearing a blue jacket and brown turtleneck, and James Comer, wearing a gray suit, sitting at a committee dais.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Oversight Committee Chair James Comer at a hearing on Dec. 5, 2023. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

House members in both parties are cringing at a turbulent Oversight Committee hearing that was bedeviled by members insulting each others' appearances, constant heckling and allegations of drinking.

Why it matters: Many lawmakers cast it as a new low in the chaos and lack of productivity that has defined the 118th Congress and has led to an historic exodus of House members.

  • House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said the hearing was "not a good look for Congress," adding, "We've to take the emotion out of these things and deal with the issues on their substance."
  • A House Republican described the hearing as "embarrassing" and "a four -alarm dumpster fire."

What happened: The Thursday night hearing was to advance a contempt of Congress resolution against Attorney General Merrick Garland for not turning over audio of President Biden's interview with special counsel Robert Hur.

  • The session quickly devolved into chaos, with Democrats blasting the GOP for postponing the hearing so several members could visit former President Trump's trial and Republicans heckling them in response.
  • Tensions reached a fever pitch when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) remarked that Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas) has "fake eyelashes" and Crockett shot back that she has a "bleach blonde, bad built, butch body."
  • "Most people probably don't even know what the hearing was on," said one House Democrat.
  • Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.) complained at one point: "We have some members in the room who are drinking inside the hearing room ... who are not on this committee."

What they're saying: "It's unchristian behavior. We have to be better than this. The People's House deserves better," said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.).

  • Oversight Ranking Member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said it was "embarrassing to our institution" and that he "constantly" instructs his members to maintain a "high level of dignity and respect and decorum."
  • Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), who apologized to the public during the hearing for the chaos, said, "We had other members texting us saying, 'What is going on? What is happening in your committee?'"
  • “It certainly puts a light on Congress that it’s chaotic, stupid, childish and undignified,” said Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.).

Zoom in: Some lawmakers are breathing a sigh of relief that they don't sit on the Oversight panel.

  • "My sincere reaction was: Did nobody notice that we had a Budget [Committee] hearing on improper payments earlier that day? ... We didn't get any attention," said Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah), telling Axios he picked his committees based on their "substance."
  • Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.), who left Oversight to take a seat on Judiciary, told Axios she's "glad" she made that decision, adding, "Oversight is, like, next-level chaos ... I'm not up for that right now."

Zoom out: Former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told Axios he thinks the hearing was indicative of why many members are retiring.

  • "There are a significant number of Republicans who do have civility ... and have been frustrated by their party, and have made a determination that it's just not worth their time to continue to serve," Hoyer said.
  • Rep. John Duarte (R-Calif.) said it’s been “demoralizing” for many lawmakers to see “all the chaos and all the notoriety seeking.”
  • Roughly two dozen member of each party are retiring or seeking other office

The bottom line: "This place is so stupid," one House Republican complained.

  • A House Democrat remarked while heading to Friday votes: "That committee is a s**tshow."
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