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Congressional Grandstanding

A Commentary By John Stossel

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Congressional hearings were created to educate lawmakers so they have knowledge before they pass bills or impeach a president.

Not today. Today, hardly any education happens.

During the President Trump impeachment "testimony," legislators tried to score points. At least five times, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., shut down criticism by shouting, "Gentleman is not recognized!"

I get that politicians are eager for "face time" in front of a larger audience, but I assumed they would at least try to learn things. Nope.

Maybe they don't want to ask real questions because they fear looking as dumb as then-Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, did at a hearing on Facebook. He asked Mark Zuckerberg, "How do you sustain a business model in which users don't pay for your service?"

"We run ads," smirked Zuckerberg. "I see," said Hatch.

What's obvious to most people somehow eludes the oblivious "experts" in Congress.

At another Facebook hearing, Congress grilled Zuckerberg about his plan to launch an electronic currency called Libra. Zuckerberg said, "I actually don't know if Libra is going to work, but I believe it's important to try new things."

He was right. But instead of asking about technological or economic implications of the idea, Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, asked Zuckerberg, of the companies partnering with him, "how many are headed by women?"

"Congressman, I do not know the answer," replied Zuckerberg.

"How many of them are minorities?" asked Green. "Are there any members of the LGBTQ+ community?"

Green doesn't want to learn anything. He wants to sneer and score points.

Politicians' sloppy ignorance is extraordinary. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, grilled Google CEO Sundar Pichai about iPhones, citing a story about his granddaughter using one, leading Pichai to explain, "Congressman, iPhone is made by a different company."

Today's posturing is not what the founders had in mind when they invented hearings in 1789.

George Mason said members of Congress "possess inquisitorial powers" to "inspect the Conduct of public offices."

Yes! Investigate government.

But today, they are more likely to threaten CEOs and bully opponents.

"Are you stupid?" then-Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said to one witness. They want to showboat, not learn. Often, they ask questions even when they know the answers.

"Ms. DeVos, have you ever taken out a student loan?" asked Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. "Have any of your children had to borrow money?"

Warren knows that DeVos is a billionaire, but she wanted to score points with her fans.

One of the louder showboaters today is self-proclaimed socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. She asked Wells Fargo boss Tim Sloan, "Why was the bank involved in the caging of children?"

"We weren't," replied Sloan.

Some of today's hearings are useful in that we get to see how absurd and ignorant our representatives can be.

During a hearing on military personnel being stationed on the island of Guam, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Georgia, said, "My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it would tip over and capsize." Really. He said that.

Then there was the time Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., chair of the House Financial Services Committee, summoned bank CEOs to Washington and demanded, "What are you guys doing to help us with this student loan debt?!"

"We stopped making student loans in 2007," Bank of America's Brian Moynihan told her.

"We actually ended student lending in 2009," added Citigroup's Michael Corbat.

"When the government took over student lending in 2010 ... we stopped doing all student lending," explained Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase.

The Chair of the Financial Services Committee didn't even know that her own party kicked bankers out of the student loan business, insisting that government take over?! Apparently not. She is so eager to blame business for government's mistakes that she didn't research her own topic.

The more I watch politicians, the more I hate them.

Let's give them less power.

John Stossel is author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails -- But Individuals Succeed." For other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

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