Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN-5) speaks out against treatment he describes as "rudeness and disrespect" directed at Elizabeth Warren during a House Oversight and Government Reform committee hearing on July 14, 2011. It should be noted that Rep. Cooper voted against Dodd Frank, and is accurately described as a blue dog.
COOPER: Thank you Mr Chairman, I don't have a question for the witness I do have a comment and primarily aimed at the junior members of the committee on both sides of the isle.
I think all of us realize that this Congress is viewed as dysfunctional. And I would submit this Committee is also viewed as dysfunctional, and this alleged hearing is one of the reasons why. It too easily degenerates into a partisan food fight, and it doesn't have to be this way. In fact, just a few years ago in Congress, it was not this way.
So I would urge the junior members of the committee to resist the partisan talking points that enable people on both sides of the aisle to walk in here, read a question, make a partisan hit, look like we're smart and then leave. That's not good governance regardless of which party's in charge.
I didn't vote for Dodd-Frank. It had many good features; it had some less good features. But I do not want to be part of a committee, at least at the subcommittee level, that treated Miss Warren with more rudeness and disrespect than I have ever seen a committee witness treated. That is not the American way.
Now, some of us come here and we get so used to the food fight that we want it to continue. And you'll probably score brownie points if you make your partisan hit. You might even get on a better committee. Well, congratulations. You will not have solved a problem.
I would suggest to the Chairman and the ranking member that often times a seminar format is much more instructive, is much more educational than the sort of partisan charade we seem to continue to engage in with hearings like this. I would urge members to read Ms Warren's, one of her books. I've only read the Two Income Trap, it's outstanding. Your constituents back home should read this book. Your bankers back home should read this book. Then there'd be a lot less hatred, a lot less discord, a lot less anger because this lady's trying to do the right thing.
And we all recognize that consumers often times get the short end of the stick. I've tried to refinance my home mortgage several times to take advantage of today's record low interest rates and the paperwork is a blizzard. I went to a very good law school and it's almost impossible for lawyers to understand this stuff.
Ms Warren has pointed out that the existing regulatory agencies have taken over a decade to try to simplify a couple of the forms and they have failed. What has this committee done to simplify some of the forms? Nothing. So, isn't it time for a new approach? Isn't it time for fresh thinking to give the consumers a break?
And let us also acknowledge that Congress is sometimes captured by vested interests. Sometimes that happens. And we need to resists that. So, I would urge the members of the committee, particularly the junior members who are not so entrenched in bad habits, consider a new and fresher approaches to solve some of these problems so that we can protect consumers and also give legitimate industries a fair shake, because all bankers aren't bad people.
But I'm afraid that we're falling into a rut here that is going to be to the detriment not only of this committee and this Congress but of the nation. It doesn't have to be this way. We can be civil to each other. We can be informed. We can resist the partisan talking points. But I'm not seeing that sort of behavior, at least so far. So, let's try to do better and let's try to be civil to witnesses like Ms Warren. Let's try to focus on the substance, because I've actually heard very little substance here today. And there are better ways to solve our problems and I hope that this committee will be part of those. So, I thank the Chairman.
Thursday morning at 9:30am, Elizabeth Warren is scheduled to answer questions at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. Back near the end of May, you will remember, Warren appeared before an Oversight subcommittee, a confrontation that ended less than amicably. As with that hearing, we'll be watching to see how our elected officials treat the only person in all of DC who is charged with protecting consumers.
Let's consider what happened this week. On Tuesday, a lot of us at the Committee Dashboard and at Daily Kos were watching the livefeed of a hearing held by the House Oversight and Government Reform (GROC) Subcommittee on TARP, Financial Services and Bailouts of Public and Private Programs.
The hearing, ironically titled "Who's Watching the Watchmen" was atypically personal and hostile. Those who routinely tune in to these hearings (something you can do easily through our own Committee Dashboard, the very tool we used to capture the now viral video of Chairman Patrick Henry calling Elizabeth Warren a liar) will tell you how out of the ordinary this was. Hearings typically involve heated debate and rhetoric, but the level of hostility on Tuesday was something else. The final minutes topped off the hour of questioning with Chairman McHenry's now famous accusation.
After the hearing, hundreds if not thousands of people flocked to both the subcommittee Chairman's and the GROC Republicans' Facebook pages to express their thoughts and concerns. McHenry's wall continues to get flooded with comments, at times one every fifteen seconds. The GROC staff and members should be applauding those folks for being engaged citizens. Instead of responding and having a conversation with those folks, the GROC Republicans simply posted this picture and childish comment... three times to really hammer it home! Rather quickly, numerous substantive, reasonable comments were deleted and several people were banned from ever commenting there again.
Think about that for a second. Many folks, after expressing concerns over the treatment of Elizabeth Warren during an Oversight committee hearing, can never again leave comments for the House Oversight and Government Reform Republicans Facebook page. Never again (on a facepook page where the welcome screen literally encourages you to "Speak Out!", although to be fair, it does imply that they only want to hear from "job creators"). Banned because we actually participated in a part of the governing process that often goes unnoticed. Banned for speaking out about something that CNN, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and well, basically everyone picked up on. That is how absurd the last couple of days have become.
After two nights of grabbing screen shots and copying comments so we could republish deleted ones on our blog (hop on over to check out the fun!), we decided to take a different route. So we established the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Free Speech Zone on Facebook. And we linked the "notifications" rss feed from that page with a twitter account, cutely named @HouseGROC. Every 30 minutes, the twitter feed will publish the most recent notifications with one caveat: they'll all be addressed to the twitter account of the Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Darrell Issa. This workaround to communicate with the committee leader through Facebook can act as a refuge for users who were banned by the GROC Republicans, or anyone just sick and tired of seeing their comments routinely deleted.
As a transparency organization situated at the center of this little kerfuffle, we felt it was the least we could do.
Lastly, our own communications director was banned after commenting on them deleting comments. Literally.
Well, the staff for Chairman Patrick McHenry, or "Chairtoddler" as David Waldman so eloquently put it, aren't deleting all the comments on their page, but we have multiple reports that comments were deleted. Expecting this, we spent some time last night copying comments from his facebook page. Below the fold you will find the hundreds and hundreds of comments we copied:
UPDATE II: Congressman John Yarmuth's office has
posted a clip of his comments on the tone of today's hearing. Video
embedded at the bottom of this post, definitely worth watching.
UPDATE: We reached out to the press team in Chairman
McHenry's office. We were not able to reach someone immediately. We
await their reply and, should we get one, will share it unedited with
Well, that was... ummm... interesting. Not sure I've ever seen a hearing end quite like this one did. Chairman McHenry basically ended the meeting by accusing Elizabeth Warren of outright lying. This is representative of the treatment she received throughout the hearing.
WARREN: You are causing problems. We had an agreement for a later
hearing. Your staff asked us to move around so that we had to change
everything on my schedule to try to accommodate your time...
MCHENRY: I certainly appreciate that but the original hearing was 2:00..
WARREN: ... the agreement was that I would be out of here at 2:15 because there are other things now scheduled at 2:30.
MCHENRY: That was a request but we moved the hearing so that you could actually get the questions in.
WARREN: Congressman (pause) you told us one thing...
MCHENRY: I did not tell you anything...
CUMMINGS: We have no one here to ask questions, Mr. Chairman. We have no one here to ask questions.
WARREN: I have other obligations I committed to based on the
representations of your staff, and our effort to try to accommodate you
and rearrange our schedule to accommodate you.
MCHENRY: Look, Ms Warren, it was a simple request. Your staff had a
request, my staff said we're trying to accommodate you. We're going to
get you out of here in ten minutes if you just...
WARREM: No, Congressman, we had an agreement.
MCHENRY: You had no agreement.
WARREN: We had an agreement for the time this hearing would...
MCHENRY: You're making this up, Ms Warren...
CUMMINGS: Oh, please...
MCHENRY: This is not the case. This is not the case.
CUMMINGS: Mr Chairman, you, you just did something that I, I'm trying
to be cordial here, but you just accused the lady of lying...
MCHENRY: She's accusing me of making an agreement that I never made.
CUMMINGS: I think you need to clear this up with your staff...
MCHENRY: I have...
CUMMINGS: That may have moved this thing around 50 million times and she's got to go to another hearing.
WARREN: Congressman, not to another hearing, to another meeting.
Congressman, I would be glad to answer questions for the record. We can
do that if you'll just send us questions for the record we're glad to
answer them and they'll be a matter of the public record.
It was a messy and confusing ending for all watching. Warren had stated that the Chairman's staff and her, after a late-night, last-minute schedule change, had agreed to let her leave by 2:15 to meet other obligations. You can see the look of shock on her face when he outright calls her a liar.
This video, recorded live, comes from the Oversight and Government Reform Committee's livefeed.
Congressman Yarmuth's remarks on the tone of today's hearing: