Just weeks into the start of the 118th Congress, and already this legislative session has fielded more drama and intrigue than some entire terms. Still, with the chaos and dysfunction of a bruising battle for the speakership, an acrimonious committee nomination process, and any number of self-contained incidents relatively settled, House Republicans are finally making headway on one of their biggest campaign promises: using their newfound congressional majority to launch a series of investigations into longstanding GOP bugbears including: purported biases in social media companies like Twitter, and similarly alleged left-leaning predispositions within certain corners of the federal government itself. Here's everything you need to know about what this signals for the rest of the term:
What are Republicans investigating?
Republicans on the House's Oversight and Judiciary committees gaveled in the first of a series of scheduled hearings on "Protecting Speech from Government Interference and Social Media Bias" and the "Weaponization of the Federal Government" respectively.
"Twitter," Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) explained at the opening of Wednesday's social media-focused panel, "was a private company that the federal government used to do what it cannot: limit the constitutional free exercise of speech." Then, over the course of several hours, Republican committee members sat by and listened as "former Twitter executives repeatedly contradicted these accusations," Washington Post tech writers Cat Zakrzewski and Cristiano Lima noted. The hearing, they concluded, was "the latest effort to advance an increasingly popular Republican narrative that Democrats colluded with social media companies" and came as part of the broader effort including the following day's panel "to probe perceived government abuses against conservatives, including allegations of social media bias."
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The Committee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, according to the GOP, seeks to "discuss the politicization of the FBI and DOJ and attacks on American civil liberties," scrutinizing the Biden administration for alleged bias against conservatives and the FBI's handling of allegations against former President Donald Trump, among other concerns. But not everyone is convinced it's the right way to investigate such questions.
"[The committee] is guilty of perpetuating the very problem it pretends to solve: weaponizing government against political adversaries, against President Biden and his family," Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) told Vanity Fair's Molly Jong-Fast. "Governance by conspiracy theory is the modus operandi of the new House Republican majority."
As The Hill pointed out following the Social Media Bias hearing, Republican committee member Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) simply "used her time to berate Twitter employees present, but she did not ask them a single question."
Conversely, Thursday's hearing featured "a lineup straight out of Fox News," with "two GOP witnesses who will set the tone for its work — former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who recently left the Democratic Party, and former FBI agent Nicole Parker — [both] currently employed [as ]Fox News contributors," Politico's Jordain Carney and Kyle Cheney wrote. "It's a stark indication of who the GOP lawmakers who make up the Judiciary Committee's new subpanel on so-called 'weaponization' view as their target audience."
Crucially, however, the Judiciary's Weaponization committee shares a significant measure of DNA with its ostensible Oversight counterpart, as Carney and Cheney point out "the vast scope of the hearing in some ways mirrors the panel's blurry boundary lines in its relationships with other House investigative work" thanks in no small part to the multiple Republican members — most notably Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — who sit on both bodies.
What do these hearings say about the GOP?
In these two committees, pundits say we can see the seeds of what will likely be an overarching theme throughout the Republican House majority: a focus on using the mechanisms of Congress to highlight key conservative narratives, regardless of both veracity and tangible benefit to the broader public. For instance, Politico's financial services writer Zachary Warmbrodt says the hearings are part of House Republicans' "plan to retool the financial industry to reduce wealth disparities and boost the underbanked."
"It's all about deregulation," Warmbrodt said, adding "that "the framing was notable after Republicans did away with Democrats' subcommittee dedicated to financial industry inclusion and increasingly bash Wall Street firms that they deem too 'woke' because of their societal goals."
With this embryonic template in place, it's likely that the sound and fury of the House's GOP-led committees will only increase in tenor and frequency as the legislative session continues. The question, then, is less one of "what will happen" as it is "will it work?" As Jong-Fast concluded in Vanity Fair, "It's too soon to know if the 'weaponization' committee hurts Republicans the way the party's overreach with Bill Clinton's impeachment did in the late 1990s — or if it helps the GOP the way Benghazi did in tarnishing Hillary Clinton last decade." Given the lackluster midterms performance many attributed to the party's embrace of extreme culture warriors and grievance airers, will 2024 be more of the same?
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