Consider last Thursday’s duo of tweets by Darrell Issa, Chair of the House Oversight Committee (Tweet One and Tweet Two) on the matter of attendance by Democrats of the committee’s meeting with the families of Benghazi victims.
As the tweets rippled across the Interwebz, the political right responded. NewsMax picked it up. Over at FOX, they carried a column on the matter by TownHall’s Katie Pavlich with the headline that such behavior amounted to “spitting on the graves” of the dead. Powerline weighed in as did AllahPundit at HotAir. Add to these an unknown number of lesser luminaries writing, posting and commenting on the matter.
Based on Darrell Issa as a trusted source and the limits inherent in confining details to 140 characters, the meme almost immediately became that Democrats “walked out” of the committee, intentionally insulting and disrespecting the families of murdered Americans. As in, when the families sat down, committee Democrats stood up and filed out.
Except that is not what happened.
Clearly, Issa never said Democrats “walked out.” The actual language was Democrats “excuse themselves” from the hearing and only two Democrats “decide to stay” for the testimony. Accurate tweets? Yes. Confusing? Also, yes. Because of the way these committees work and the nature of Twitter. And then there’s the politics …
The entire hearing was about 6 hours long with two separate witness panels. Only the second panel, for the last hour, had family members as witnesses. There was even a break between the panels. In addition, it is common for committee members to come and go during hearings. Sometimes more than once. Sometimes in the middle of someone’s testimony.
According to Frederick Hill, the committee’s Deputy Staff Director for Communication and Strategy, 22 of the 23 GOP committee members and 14 of the 18 Dems attended all or part of the entire 6 hours. Hill noted that the bulk of attendance, for both groups, was for the first panel. What caught Issa’s attention and prompted the tweets were the disparities in attendance for the family member panel after the break. For that panel specifically, attendance was down on both sides with only 10 Republicans and 2 Democrats, Elijah Cummings and Jackie Speier, attending all or part of it.
I’m comfortable with the notion that Issa was not suggesting this was because Dems had “walked out,” although the language could have been describing that if they had. Rather, he was working with limitations and did the best he could within them. His tweets were accurate. His intent, however, would seem to be to suggest Democrats put less of a priority on the families’ testimony. I’m less comfortable with that conclusion.
Because, as did others, I initially took Issa’s language in the strongest possible negative sense. I was doubly upset because my Congressman, Jim Cooper (TN-05), was one of the accused Democrats. Had he not been, I may have snarked first and investigated later, if at all. Instead, I called Cooper’s office and found he could not have “walked out” of the meeting since he did not attend either panel, being busy with other congressional business.
Per Rep. Cooper’s Press Secretary, Chris Carroll, “Jim has attended many Benghazi hearings. He did not walk out Thursday because he was not able to attend the hearing at all. He was in several House Armed Services Committee meetings and meeting with constituents from Tennessee.”
Unless I am willing to accuse Cooper’s staff of lying – and I’m not – this is a reasonable explanation for his absence. Which begs the question; is this not, then, a likely explanation for other absent committee members, Democrat and Republican alike? All in all, I’m actually pleased my Congressman was “in several House Armed Services Committee meetings and meeting with constituents.” Because it’s like, you know … his job?
At least he wasn’t golfing, on vacation or preparing for a fund raiser in Vegas …
I’m sure the days ahead, as have years passed, will provide ample reason for me to be unhappy with Congressman Jim Cooper.
This is not one of them.
But it is a teachable moment for all of us, regardless of politics. For both of our sides, in our adversarial approach, let’s take Reagan’s advice and “Trust, but verify!”
First we study … then we snark …