Republican Chairman Stuns Room by Shutting Down Hearings!
Turns Off Hearing Room Microphones in Middle of Testimony! FURTHER UPDATES...PELOSI DEMANDS APOLOGY!
By Brad Friedman on 6/10/2005, 11:19am PT  

As originally reported here yesterday, Democrats on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee invoked a rarely used rule to extend Committee hearings on the renewal of the Patriot Act.

Apparently, they inappropriately called witnesses to testify today from whom the Republicans did not wish to hear. And thus, in what can only be seen as an unprecedented tyrannical abuse of Majority power in the U.S. House of Representatives, Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), suddenly and without warning, gavelled the hearings to a close! Unilaterally, without debate, and in the middle of ongoing testimony!

The extraordinary video clip of Sensenbrenner's appalling display, was captured by C-SPAN. Take a look at the meltdown...

BuzzFlash describes the remarkable incident in some detail as follows...

GOP House Judiciary Chair Uses Pinochet Tactics to Abruptly and Unilaterally Shut Down Hearing Into Abuses of the (Un)Patriot Act, Because He Was Afraid the Truth Would Come Out. America: "IT" is Happening Here. Democracy is Being Dismantled by GOP Thugs.

June 10, 2005
BuzzFlash News Analysis

This morning, House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI) unilaterally and arbitrarily shut down committee hearings on the reauthorization of the Patriot Act without comment or issuing a statement. Sensenbrenner gaveled the committee hearings in the middle of witnesses testifying about human and civil rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay, racial profiling of individuals of Middle Eastern descent, prolonged detentions of Americans after September 11th and other abuses.

The suppression of free speech and testimony in the congressional committee in charge of protecting our civil liberties shows the Republican's power grab has no limits and no decency. The irony was not lost on anyone.

UPDATE: We must go on the air on Tony Trupiano's show in a just a few minutes, so this must be quick for now. (Link to that interview, with a lot more information on my conversation with a Democratic staffer who was in the room, is now below.)

To clarify some confusion on this matter, what had been referred to as "Democratic Hearings" today in some places, actually were not Democratic-only hearings (unlike the hearings that took place in January on Ohio Election Irregularities, and the recent Media Bias forum held by Conyers and other Dems).

Today's hearings were called under the archane provision of House Rule 11, which, we are told, allows the Minority to call for an additional day of hearings and to choose their own witnesses if they are unsatisfied with the hearings as held by the Majority.

The U.S. House Judiciary Democrats have been unable to do that previously on issues like Election 2004 and Media Bias because the Majority hadn't called a hearing at all on those matters, and thus, they were forced to call their own hearings.

We are told by a Democratic Staffer who The BRAD BLOG has just spoken to, and who was present at today's debacle, that the Majority has been quite disturbed by those previous hearings for some time, and, in fact, during the airing of Conyers' Media Bias forum (it ran as taped on C-SPAN at 8:30pm ET a few Saturdays ago), an email was sent to a Judiciary Committee staffer which said, in effect, "I'm watching your forum right now, hope you enjoyed it, it will be your last."

We'll have more detail after we're off the air, but the staffer just explained to us that the Minority was displeased with the witnesses called previously in the Commission hearings on renewal of the Patriot Act, and attempted to work with the Majority to call additional witnesses.

According to the staffer, they were told, "'You're gonna get your hearing, but it's gonna be 8:30am on Friday morning'...Never in the history of the Judiciary Committee have we been able to find a time when a hearing has been scheduled like that. The Congress was not in session today. We've never been able to find an instance when a hearing was called when Congress wasn't in session."

"The irony, when we're debating the Patriot Act," we were told, "of cutting off the debate and acting so anti-democratic when that's going on, is unbelievable!

"In the committee with sole jurisdiction over civil rights and civil liberties, for the chairman to say, I don't want to hear about guys who are getting their testicles shocked, it's breathtaking arrogance, it's testimony to abuse of power and how this place is now run. They've become everything they said they deplored when they took over the house in 1994."

Conversations with the House Democratic leadership on currently ongoing. The BRAD BLOG has learned that they are "very very concerned" about this matter, and that "the issue will be elevated."

"Ms. Pelosi is very concerned about this," said the staffer.

UPDATE: Pelosi has just issued a statement, Jesse at Stakeholder has it. Here's a few grafs:

"Chairman Sensenbrenner proved again today that he is afraid of ideas, and that Republicans will stop at nothing to silence Democrats. It is quite ironic that at a hearing on the impact of the Patriot Act on civil liberties, the Republicans attempted to suppress free speech.

"This is part of Republican abuses of power: to silence Democrats and the voice of the minority, to deny millions of Americans a voice in Congress. Republican leaders dictate the party line and ram bills through committees, and permit few if any amendments on the floor. Republicans are unwilling and unable to compete in the marketplace of ideas, so they have chosen to arbitrarily and capriciously abuse their power simply because they can.
I commend Judiciary Committee Democrats for continuing to question witnesses after the Republicans' shameful behavior, and for standing up for the institution of the House.
"As House Democratic Leader, I expect all Members to be treated by the majority with dignity and respect. I will ask Speaker Hastert to order Mr. Sensenbrenner to apologize for his behavior to the witnesses at the hearing today, and to promise that this will never again happen."

FURTHER UPDATE: After the microphones were turned off by a Republican staffer (but still captured on the C-SPAN video), one of the witnesses whose testimony was abrubtly ended, was James Zogby of the Arab American Institute. Here's what he said:

"I just saw something...totally inappropriate. No mic on and no record being kept. But I think as we are lecturing foreign governments about the conduct of their behavior with regard to opposition --- when I see the behavior I saw here today as an American --- I'm really troubled about what kind of lesson this is going to teach to other countries in the world about how they ought to conduct an open society that allows for an opposition with rights. I'm sorry, I'm very offended." [applause in the room]

Consider it now on the record now, Mr. Zogby. Thank you for speaking up.

FURTHER FURTHER UPDATE: My interview on the TONY TRUPIANO SHOW wherein I was able to give more details from my interview with the Democratic Staffer just before going on air is now online here [MP3].

LATE AFTERNOON UPDATE: AP covers Sensenbrenner's hissy in a not bad article. A couple of new points added:

The Republican chairman walked off with the gavel, leaving Democrats shouting into turned-off microphones at a raucous hearing Friday on the Patriot Act.
Tempers flared when Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., accused Amnesty International of endangering the lives of Americans in uniform by referring to the prison at Guantanamo Bay as a "gulag." Sensenbrenner didn't allow the Amnesty representative, Chip Pitts, to respond until Nadler raised a "point of decency."

EARLY EVENING UPDATE: The BRAD BLOG has now been able to identify the previously unidentified staffer who hit the "kill switch" on the microphones while Rep. Jerrold Nadler was speaking (see photo above). That thoughtful gentleman and statesman was Majority Counsel for the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Robert Tracci. He's seen at right receiving an award from the American National Standards Institute, though no doubt today was his proudest moment.

PLUS...HUGE IRONY ALERT!...Liz from the Rapid Response Network was kind enough to send us a link to a press release by Chairman Sensenbrenner publicizing a letter which he sent just this past Wednesday(!) to Howard Dean. It includes this all too ironic passage:

These attacks are contrary to the passionate - but respectful - political debate the public deserves.

And so it goes...

UPDATE 6:26pm PT: The Hill covers the dust-up...

A House Judiciary Committee hearing on the renewal of the Patriot Act turned ugly this morning after Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) gaveled the proceedings to a close over the objections of Democrats.

Democrats continued to make statements and witnesses continued to offer testimony even after Sensenbrenner had left the room. C-SPAN cameras were still rolling as the committee's majority staff rushed to turn off microphones and lights on the Democrats, prompting the television crews to break out boom mikes.
Jeff Lungren, a spokesman for Sensenbrenner defended the chairman's actions..."We have a number of members on our committee for whom 5 minutes is never enough. Five hours is closer. You're trying to be respectful of everyone's time and [Sensenbrenner] was very, very generous...Democrats wanted to turn a thoughtful review of the Patriot Act into open mic night at the Improv," he said.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), one of the Democrats who kept the hearing going after Sensenbrenner left, said, "At the end, I wanted to make a statement. I sought recognition, but the chairman declared the hearing adjourned. I said, 'point of order,' and he just got up and walked out." Proper parliamentary practice in the House generally requires that committee chairman adjourn on motion or without objection, neither of which was the case this morning. "Despite the fact that [Sensenbrenner had left], I went ahead and made the statement, at which point, someone turned off my mike and I had to comment loudly," he said.

That someone, as identified by BRAD BLOG previously, was Majority Judiciary Counsel and Proud American, Robert Tracci.

UPDATE 10:43pm PT: Washington Post covers the meltdown. And on page A04 no less!

Chairman Sensenbrenner
PHONE: 1-800-247-2971

Majority Counsel & Sound Engineer, Robert Tracci

We might also suggest you contact the media on this wherever you can. There's video available. They like that!

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