House GOP’s first month in charge: Manufactured outrage, red scare bills, and pedophile smears

Pandemic spending

The House Oversight Committee, now led by Rep. James Comer (R-KY), held its first hearing this month titled “Federal Pandemic Spending: A Prescription for Waste, Fraud and Abuse.” Three witnesses attended the hearing: David Smith, U.S. Secret Service Assistant Director of Office of Investigation; Michael Horowitz, DOJ Inspector General; and Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States.

As the hearing name would suggest, Republicans used their time to (1) criticize federal Covid relief programs like the Paycheck Protection Program and (2) accuse Democrats of failing to conduct adequate oversight of Covid relief programs.

Comer: We owe it to the American people to get to the bottom of the greatest theft of American taxpayer dollars in history. We must identify where this money went, how much ended up in the hands of fraudsters or ineligible participants, and what should be done to ensure it never happens again. This Committee will evaluate the hundreds of billions of dollars of grants and loans doled out from nearly every agency in the federal government, to ensure those funds were appropriately used to respond to the pandemic, and not wasted on ineligible payees or unrelated matters.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA)—who was restored to committee assignments after being removed during the last Congress for, among other things, spouting violent and anti-semitic conspiracy theories—used her time to focus on manufactured right-wing culture war issues (clip).

Greene: Mr Dodaro, can you tell me how much Covid cash went towards diversity, equity, and inclusion or racism issues?

Dodaro: Again, we have not looked at that issue so I don’t know.

Greene: Oh jeez. Well I can tell you the Pennsylvania Humanities council did receive $1.4 million in relief and use it for equity and geographic diversity. I’m not sure how that helped in a pandemic time. Mr. Dodaro, can you tell me uh how much Covid cash went to CRT?

Dodaro: CRT?

Greene: Critical Race Theory in education. It’s a racist curriculum used to teach children that somehow their white skin is not equal to black skin and other things in education.

Dodaro: I do not know that but I do know that there’s provisions that the federal funds generally are not used—they’re supposed to be used for curriculum.

Greene: Oh Mr. Dodaro, I have to tell you in Illinois, that they receive 5.1 billion at an elementary school there, that used it for equity and diversity. So it’s being used for these things. Mr. Dodaro, can you tell me how much money was given to Drag Queen Story Hour?

Dodaro: I’m sorry, could you repeat that?

Greene: Drag Queen Story Time, where men dress up as women and read confusing books to children.

Dodaro: I don’t know the answer to either one of those two.

Greene: Oh we need to look into this and I urge you to do that. Bradberry Sullivan LGBT community center in Pennsylvania received $16,000 for Drag Queen Story Hour from Covid cash.

The truth, as usual, is more complicated: Covid relief money could be used to address a wide variety of student academic and social needs, as well as pay for personnel costs. This includes programs to more equitably serve a diverse community and to teach what conservatives incorrectly call “CRT”—a term now used to ban books by Black authors and limit the accurate teaching of slavery and the civil war. Books from the African American point of view and accurate history lessons are not CRT, they are foundational aspects of understanding the United States.

Furthermore, Greene used completely inaccurate numbers during her questioning time. An elementary school in Illinois did not receive $5.1 billion for equity and diversity. The entirety of the state received $5.1 billion that was split between roughly 850 schools.

Ninety percent of the American Rescue Plan funding received in Illinois flowed directly to school districts, which then determined locally how to spend their money, said Jackie Matthews, Illinois State Board of Education spokesperson. The rest of the money went to the state…Illinois’ school reopening strategies included an emphasis on equity and diversity, and a portion of the money was directed to helping groups of students who were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, such as low-income students.

Red scare

The House Rules Committee, now led by Republican Rep. Tom Cole (OK), held a hearing to debate a nonbinding resolution that would condemn “the horrors of socialism.” The bill, H.Con.Res.9, denounces leaders like Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Kim Jong Un, while declaring that Congress “opposes the implementation of socialist policies in the United States of America.”

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) was invited to testify at the hearing as ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee. In her opening statement (clip), Waters criticized Republicans for “wasting our time” with a “divisive resolution instead of focusing on the real threats to our economy and democracy.”

“Notably, the leader of the Republican Party, your leader Donald Trump, has actually praised all of these authoritarians,” Waters added. “Since Republicans won’t prioritize, it I’m going to talk about the biggest threat to our way of life, to our democracy, and to our economy. Many of us in this room personally witnessed the biggest threat to our democracy on January 6. After lying to the country that the election was stolen, President Trump called upon his supporters to violently overthrow the United States government.”

Later in the hearing, Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) tried to catch Waters in a ‘gotcha’ moment by asking her to denounce communist leaders (clip):

Reschenthaler: Ranking Member Waters, I would think that this would be the most bipartisan bill and the fact that this isn’t passing on suspension just says everything about my friends across the aisle—That you can’t condemn socialism. I mean in your opening remarks you were talking about Putin, Kim Jong-un, and Xi. You know what they all have in common?

Waters: Trump.

Reschenthaler: Trump? North Korea, China, and Russia?

Waters: He loves Kim Jong-un.

Reschenthaler: That’s quite the intellectual leap. I would say: communism. Would you like to denounce any communist leaders?

Waters: Well, I don’t know what you’re asking but let me just [read]— the leader of the Republican Party, Donald Trump, has made often glowing [comments about] authoritarians like Kim Jong-un, who is condemned in the resolution. Regarding North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Trump said ‘Kim wrote me beautiful letters and they’re great letters and we fell in love.’ You sure you want to hear the rest of this?

Reschenthaler: I can go through some atrocities and you can you can say if you agree with them or not. You can choose to announce them. If you’d like to go down that path, we can. What would you like to do?

Waters: I would like to condemn this resolution and ask that we all give attention to the very short time that we have to do the people’s work.

“Your Republican leader, Donald Trump, is friends with, supports Putin. Kim Jong Un, he loves him. And he led this country in being basically undermined by Jan. 6, including … telling his supporters to go after our own police officers here and use the American flag,” Waters said. “I haven’t heard one denouncement on the Republican side. Nobody has denounced that. Are you afraid of Trump? Do you agree with Trump? Ask him the questions, don’t ask me.”

H.Con.Res.9 ultimately passed the House in a 328-86 vote (with 14 voting present). 109 Democrats joined all Republicans in voting in favor.

Hunter Biden’s laptop

The House Oversight Committee held a hearing earlier this month titled “Protecting Speech from Government Interference and Social Media Bias, Part 1: Twitter’s Role in Suppressing the Biden Laptop Story.” Witnesses included Vijaya Gadde, Former Chief Legal Officer at Twitter; James Baker, Former Deputy General Counsel at Twitter; Yoel Roth, Former Global Head of Trust & Safety at Twitter; and Anika Collier Navaroli, Former U.S. Safety Policy Team at Twitter.

Republicans on the Committee alleged that Twitter officials unconstitutionally censored conservative free speech by temporarily blocking the 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s purported laptop on its platform. The article in question contained unsubstantiated claims that emails on the laptop showed corruption by then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Twitter officials worried that the story may be the result of a Russian hack-and-leak operation and decided to prevent users from sharing the link for a short period of time.

Chairman James Comer (R-KY) opened the hearing by praising Elon Musk (clip):

Comer: Social media platforms are increasingly the place Americans go to express their views, debate issues, and gather news and information. These platforms are the virtual town square. However many social media platforms are under the control of people who are hostile to the fundamental American principles of free speech and expression protected in the US Constitution. We’ve witnessed big tech autocrats willed their unchecked power to suppress the speech of Americans to promote their preferred political opinions. Twitter was once one of these platforms until Elon Musk purchased the company a few months ago.

Mr. Musk is pledged to end censorship that goes beyond the law. He has pledged to allow Americans’ voices be heard, not quashed. In this hearing, we’ll examine the actions taken by Twitter prior to Mr. Musk’s ownership. Many of these actions were carried out by the witnesses before us today prior to Mr. Musk taking over the company, Twitter aggressively suppressed conservative elected officials, journalists, and activists. This includes shadow banning locking accounts and banning accounts altogether. In fact, Twitter’s previous management team deplatformed and suppressed not just conservative voices, but anyone whose opinions strayed from what they deemed acceptable opinions such as that students could and should attend school in person to curb learning loss.

Democrats used their time to point out that Donald Trump’s administration engaged in behavior just as bad as what Republicans accuse the Biden team of doing. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) brought up a tweet by Chrissy Teigen that insulted Trump in 2019 (clip):

Connolly: We heard from the chairman in his opening statement that it’s wrong for the government to call Twitter and say ‘take down a tweet’ … So on May 27th, 2020, president Donald J. Trump tweeted and I quote, ‘Republicans feel that social media platforms totally silence conservatives’… ‘We will strongly regulate,’ he went on to say, ‘or close them down before we ever allow this to happen,’ unquote. Ms. Navaroli, doesn’t that sound eerily like a government official telling Twitter that there’s a threat ‘we’ll shut you down if we don’t like the content?’

Navaroli: I am not familiar with the tweet that you have referenced.

Connolly: But if I just told you that quote without telling you who said it, might it has some ominous overtones from your point of view, if you’re still at Twitter? We’ll shut you down. We’ll regulate you. We will never allow this to happen. Those are pretty strong words.

Navaroli: They are, yeah.

Connolly: Okay. On September 8th, 2019 at 11:11 PM Donald Trump heckled two celebrities on Twitter—John Legend and his wife, Chrissy Teigen—and referred to them as ‘the musician, John Legend and his filthy-mouthed wife.’ Ms. Teigen responded to that at 12:17 AM and according to notes from a conversation with you, Ms. Navaroli’s counsel, your counsel, the White House almost immediately thereafter contacted Twitter to demand the tweet be taken down. Is that accurate?

Navaroli: Thank you for the question. In my role, I was not responsible for receiving any sort of request from the government. However, what I was privy to was my supervisors letting us know that we had received something along those lines or something of a request. In that particular instance, I do remember hearing that we had a request from the White House to make sure that we evaluated this tweet and that they wanted it to come down because it was a derogatory statement directed towards the President.

Connolly: They wanted it to come down. They made that request?

Navaroli: To my recollection, yes.

Connolly: I thought that was an inappropriate action by a government official, let alone the White House. But it wasn’t Joe Biden about his son’s laptop, it was Donald Trump because he didn’t like what Chrissy Teigen had to say about him. Is that correct?

Navaroli: Yes, that is correct.

Connolly: My, my, my. Do you ever think it’s appropriate for the President of the United States to direct or otherwise influence a social media company to take down its content?

Navaroli: I think it’s a very slippery slope.

Connolly: Mr. Roth, Ms. Gadde, Mr. Baker, any evidence that Joe Biden’s ever done that?

Roth: Certainly none that I’m aware of. No.

Navaroli: I don’t recall anything like that.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) used her time to complain about being suspended from Twitter for repeatedly spreading Covid-19 misinformation (clip):

Greene: Mr. Baker, Ms. Gadde, Mr. Roth, and Ms. Navaroli. You can consider your speech canceled during my time because you canceled mine. You see, you permanently banned my personal Twitter account and it was my campaign account also. So let’s talk about election interference, shall we? January 2nd, 2002, you permanently banned my Twitter account. This was the account that I would put my campaign ads on, raise money on, fight back when attacked with lies, and be able to talk to my voters in my district. But you banned it. And then let me explain. My account was not reinstated until November 21st, 2022. That was after my election on November 8th.

Greene: You know, at your company we’re your former company where you worked, Twitter employees, over 98% of them donate to Democrats. So while you coordinated with DHS, the FBI, the CIA, our government and outside groups to permanently ban shadow, ban conservative Americans and candidates like me and the former president of the United States President Donald J. Trump, you were censoring and wrongfully violating our First Amendment free speech rights. Guess what? None of you hold security clearances. None of you are elected and none of you represent 750,000 people like I do… Guess what? I’m so glad that you’re censored down. I’m so glad you’ve lost your jobs. Thank God Elon Musk bought Twitter.

Greene then moved on to smearing Yoel Roth, who was already targeted by a “homophobic and antisemitic” rightwing harassment campaign that forced him to flee his home (clip):

Greene: It’s amazing to me, Mr. Roth, as the head of trust and safety at Twitter, your ability, or should I say inability to remove child porn. Now, here’s something that disgusted me about you. In your doctoral dissertation entitled ‘Gay Data,’ you argued that minors should have access to Grindr, an adult male gay hookup app. Minors? Really? You know, Elon Musk took over Twitter and he banned 44,000 accounts that were promoting child porn. You permanently banned my Twitter account, but you allowed child porn all over Twitter. Twitter had become a platform, you said, connecting queer young adults.

Other highlights:

Ranking member Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a constitutional law professor, used his opening statement to educate his colleagues and the audience about the First Amendment (clip).

Yoel Roth and Anika Collier Navaroli testify about Russian propaganda on Twitter (clip).

Freshman Democrat and former prosecutor Daniel Goldman (NY) broke down the New York Post article and what it got wrong (clip).

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) spoke about accounts like LibsofTikTok that use Twitter to incite violence against the LGBTQ+ community (clip).