Representative Jim Jordan’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Hearings

Representative Jim Jordan’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Hearings

Representative Jim Jordan’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Hearings

The Ohio representative’s debut in the scandal business represents a considerable falling off from the party of Joseph McCarthy and Henry Hyde.

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Republicans started planning scandal hearings last summer—before voting even began in the midterm elections. They needed the extra time because there was so much to do. Representative Elise Stefanik, the enterprising young New Yorker who serves in the House leadership, said in July that President Joe Biden not only had corrupt relationships with criminals and foreign adversaries but that “Joe Biden profited from that.” Not surprisingly, Stefanik said, “We intend to investigate.”

For his part, House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan promised that the treachery of Democrats and the deep state at last would be exposed, including a Department of Justice that “treats parents as terrorists” and social media companies that secretly work with Democrats to censor conservatives.

Jordan, who is now chairman of a subcommittee on the “weaponization” of government against conservatives, previewed even more nefarious skulduggery. There were, he said, “dozens” of federal whistleblowers who were prepared to blow the lid off the deep state, including at least 14 inside the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Those FBI witnesses would show how the agency was used to thwart Donald Trump and other conservatives. Indeed, once word of the hearings got out, the army of whistleblowers grew. By January, Jordan had revised the number of FBI whistleblowers up to 19. (Senator Joseph McCarthy’s numbers tended to jump around too.)

Last week, in a measure of the esteem that Jordan has earned throughout his career (former Republican speaker John Boehner once called him a “legislative terrorist”), newbie Democratic Representative Daniel Goldman of New York openly mocked Jordan’s failure to produce anything resembling an actual scandal.

“Apparently, this committee is no longer focused on the so-called dozens and dozens of FBI whistleblowers who were supposedly going to show some massive government conspiracy to attack conservatives,” Goldman said. “Three of them have now come in for transcribed interviews—over a month ago. Where are those witnesses, Mr. Chairman? Let’s bring them in. Bring them in right here so that the American people can see for themselves what the entire basis of this subcommittee is.”

If a lowly freshman is taunting you in public, it’s generally a sign that you’re having a bad week.

The stalled Republican scandal industry is a bit of a mystery. As the Monongahela Valley once was to the manufacture of steel out of fire, House Republicans were to the fashioning of scandal out of innuendo. (Senate Republicans have typically played Ralph Kramden to House Republicans’ Ed Norton. Senators drive the bus; House members work in the sewer.)

Results were rarely spectacular, but they were often solid. The Obama-era “IRS scandal”—a GOP concoction not unlike the current “Twitter Files,” in which lawful and generally appropriate scrutiny of political conduct was recast as an insidious attack on conservative America—convinced a majority of Americans that the IRS had done wrong. Meanwhile, after more than a half dozen Republican hearings on the lethal terrorist attack in Benghazi, mention of that word still evokes an aura of malfeasance, even if Americans are fuzzy on what exactly Hillary Clinton did wrong.

Yet so far neither Jordan nor his colleague James Comer, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, seem able to manufacture a political hit for a new era. Clearly something about the GOP or the larger political context has changed. After all, it’s not as if all the scandalmonger jobs were exported to China (although Russia did gain market share in 2016). Even Fox News, a vital partner in the scandal-industrial complex, has expressed disappointment with the new product line.

“I think the House Republicans have put on such a clown show that the credibility of a traditional Congressional hearing has been woefully devalued and diluted,” said former Republican consultant Mike Murphy in an e-mail. “Brand counts. Plus, the Jan. 6 hearings set a high bar for the optics of doing it correctly, and these jokers just cannot compete.”

If the market for political fantasy has changed, Jordan doesn’t seem to have caught on. Or perhaps Jordan simply can’t settle on a coherent narrative. Last week, he brought in two witnesses who spouted off and then promptly hustled out of the room—before Democrats could ask a single question. It was not a display of confidence.

There was a time when Republicans could count on the mainstream media to amplify whatever was brewing in the fever swamps. But after so much yowling about magic stolen votes and the crucifixion of MAGA Jesus by Pontius Biden, that’s become a shakier bet. Even the most absorbent polity eventually reaches a saturation point. After torrents of bad faith, neither the news media nor the non-MAGA public appears eager to keep mopping it up.

News of Trump’s indictment last week prompted a new round of baseless attacks—this time on New York prosecutor Alvin Bragg—from Jordan and other House Republicans. As Jordan grows more desperate to produce a viable scandal, let alone evidence of the Biden crime spree described by Stefanik, it’s not hard to imagine him unwittingly inviting the kind of capstone that Army lawyer Joseph Welch provided to McCarthy’s 1954 hearings on subversives in the military. McCarthy’s corruption had by then been well established; Welch just affixed a public label to it.

Jordan is currently threatening to pursue experts on disinformation and force them to testify before his committee. That is, Jordan is considering subjecting himself, in public, to the testimony of professionals who make their living studying bad actors who spread falsehoods. It’s certainly an intriguing proposition. It would be good for the public to learn more about political disinformation. It might not be great for Jim Jordan.

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