Sen. Rand Paul, who’s made a sport of hunting Dr. Anthony Fauci, really stuck the shiv in at the Senate COVID hearing on Tuesday. It can hardly get more personal than asking Fauci if he thinks it’s “appropriate to use your $420,000 salary to smear scientists who don’t agree with you?” Paul kept at it, describing how eminent the scientists were, without naming them, waving emails he said would prove his point.
There was more—Paul’s questioning went on for about ten minutes, twice as long as allowed, and he didn’t so much ask questions as call the doctor reprehensible, among other epithets, while ignoring the other expert witnesses. Listening to Paul, I understood why his next door-neighbor finally hauled off and attacked him.
As Sen. Patty Murray inexplicably let Paul go on for twice his allowed time, only invoking the rules to give Fauci about two minutes to answer over eight minutes of what would otherwise have been an uninterrupted monologue, the doctor cut to the chase, saying that Paul’s continued lies about him “kindled the crazies” to the point where the police, in a routine stop for speeding, came upon one of the crazies driving from Sacramento to Washington with an AR-15 and ammo and a plan to kill Fauci. He waved his own piece of paper from Paul’s website with the message “Fire Dr. Fauci” used to solicit donations.
The next Democrat up, Sen. Chris Murphy, could have used his five minutes to call Paul to account or give Fauci time to speak without interruption. Instead, Murphy congratulated Fauci for defending himself–“not always an easy thing to do,” he said. He then moved on to his list of prepared questions.
Why would he do that? Because they all do. There’s plenty of time to coordinate beforehand—to split up the duties, agree on the points that need to be made, establish an order of battle. But members of both parties largely read from their notes, written by an aide. Paul could have burst into song and the instinct would be to keep reading off notes in front of them, when the instinct should be to challenge the phony claims about Fauci.
One smart thing Democrats did in Trump’s first impeachment hearing was hire an attorney to do the grilling, taking a page from the old days when hearings meant something and counsels to the various committees did most of the questioning, rather than lawmakers stiffly delivering speeches dressed up as questions.
It was informed questioning of Ralph Nader and reluctant auto manufacturers from the counsel of the relevant committees that moved the country to see that what stood between them and deadly crashes was a set of inexpensive seat belts. In the famed Watergate hearings, it wasn’t only the chairs teasing out what Nixon knew and when he knew it. It was two lawyers, Sam Dash and Fred Thompson, the latter so effective he left Congress to play one on TV. A few years later he became a senator himself.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Republicans coordinated their questioning to push a lie about Fauci keeping his finances secret. In fact, they are publicly available. It’s no wonder, at a time when 81% of Republicans disapprove of the job the 81-year-old doctor is doing and the party’s senators raise money off of bashing him.
The result was that none of the officials there to testify were brought to account, about why they can’t get their stories straight about when, where and which masks we should be wearing or how long people who test positive should stay at home. No one talked about the danger of our healthcare system snapping under the strain. Instead, the day was spent in an onslaught of repetitive and baseless charges against Fauci.
Democrats wonder why they don’t get their message out as well as Republicans. One reason is Republicans are willing to endlessly repeat the same lies. A hearing would be a good place to respond to those lies, five minutes at a time. To bring officials to account, even Democratic appointees, take a detour to rebut Republicans with the same gusto they light into you, and even occasionally make laws, although regular order is nearly extinct. A bill can become a law today without seeing the inside of a hearing room.
True, being a senator isn’t what it used to be. Only a few members get all the attention at a time when so many of them crave it and often it’s the most extreme member as they smear Fauci while promoting any and every supposed cure except the vaccines that can actually save lives.
As Republicans peddle propaganda, why didn’t each Democrat preface their questions with a reminder that this is a crisis of the unvaccinated, who are ten times more likely to become infected, 17 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 20 more likely to die?
Watching the Rand Pauls of the world grandstand, while Democrats did little to challenge him, was a scene to make you despair.
In a crisis as profound as this, a hearing is a terrible thing to waste.