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Republicans Flop in First Hunter Biden Hearing
Pre-Elon Twitter actually engaged in a fair amount of rule-bending to appease the Trump administration.
Good afternoon, Press Pass readers. It’s been a busy week in Congress. Before we dive in, I wanted to ask that if you like my reporting—published here every Tuesday and Thursday—please do me a favor and subscribe to Bulwark+ or share this newsletter with a friend.
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The first Hunter Biden hearing was a hot mess
Wednesday on Capitol Hill featured the first official foray by the Republican-led House into the matter of Hunter Biden’s laptop. The House Oversight Committee hauled in multiple Twitter executives who departed shortly after Elon Musk took over the company to berate them about Hunter Biden’s laptop:
Yoel Roth, who helmed Trust & Safety
Deputy General Counsel James Baker
Chief Legal Officer Vijaya Gadde
Anika Collier Navaroli, the Twitter whistleblower who testified last year before the House January 6th Committee
Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer kicked off the hearing by praising Elon Musk and his supposed “commitment to end censorship,” just one day after a Republican senator had his account locked for posting a photo on a hunting trip.
Republican committee members held large posters displaying tweets in which Roth called Trump administration staffers “Nazis.” Democrats responded with their own posters, which featured Trump’s posts on Truth Social claiming to be the “RIGHTFUL WINNER” of the 2020 election and calling for a redo. In attendance was Micki Witthoeft, the mother of Ashli Babbit, the woman shot by police while breaking into the Capitol on Jan. 6th. Bizarrely, the hearing had to recess for a couple of hours because the power went out, leaving the room in darkness. Even the lights were restored, the hearing didn’t start up again right away, since the C-SPAN crew needed time to get all its equipment running again, and everybody understands that this was the sort of hearing that only exists to create as many weaponizable video clips as possible.
The hearing was a mess, but actually did a good job of illuminating two things:
1. Republicans on the committee think their primary objective is to strong-arm private companies they believe are unfair to conservatives.
Republicans spent the hearing questioning the political motives of the witnesses and used that as evidence that pre-Musk Twitter used its power over the public square to muffle conservative voices.
Byron Donalds of Florida spent his time trying to trip up Roth on what knew about a request by the Biden campaign to remove nude photos of Hunter Biden. Tim Burchett of Tennessee questioned why right-wingers like Dan Bongino and Charlie Kirk didn’t get more engagement on Twitter. Lauren Boebert badgered Roth about whether he “shadowbanned” her Twitter account, shouting, “Who the hell do you think you are?”
Marjorie Taylor Greene took a different tack. Instead of asking any questions, she spent her allotted five minutes berating the witnesses because, as she put it, “I consider your speech canceled during my time because you canceled mine.”
Wrapping up her monologue about all the ways she’s supposedly been wronged by Twitter, Greene added, “By the way, I’m a member of Congress and you’re not.”
Democrats on the committee accused the Republican majority of going on a nakedly political fishing expedition, suggesting that Twitter’s content moderation policies aren’t even within their jurisdiction.
During a break in the hearing, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told reporters, “Despite all their mentions of the First Amendment, they have not made any sort of legal or legislative argument as to what the tie here is beyond a personal offense.”
Freshman Rep. Dan Goldman—whom you might remember as the lead counsel in Trump’s first impeachment trial—at one point said to Comer, “I hope you are not abusing the power as chairman of this committee and that you are not wasting taxpayer dollars on a fishing expedition into a civilian child of a president for political purposes.”
2. Pre-Elon Twitter actually engaged in a fair amount of rule-bending to appease the Trump administration.
This became apparent during the testimony from Navaroli, who revealed the same kind of “censorship” behavior from the Trump administration that Republicans accused Biden of, such as requesting that Twitter delete this 2019 tweet from model and TV personality Chrissy Teigen:
Navaroli noted that she had repeatedly been told to stand down after presenting superiors with evidence that radical groups were inciting violence leading up to January 6th.
She also pointed to a specific moment when Twitter’s content moderation team determined that Trump had violated the terms of service with a tweet telling Ocasio-Cortez and others to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” This phrase violated Twitter’s rules against abusive behavior regarding immigrants, but rather than discipline Trump, Twitter removed the relevant language from its content moderation guidance.
Yesterday’s hearing was supposed to be a blockbuster, a spectacle in which Big Tech’s censorship bosses were dragged through the mud and made an example of. It was a spectacle all right, but it sure didn’t go as Republicans intended.
Republicans are pretending they don’t want to cut Social Security and Medicare
In his State of the Union address, Republicans booed and shouted “liar!” at President Biden for accurately noting that some members of Congress want to slash Social Security or Medicare as part of an upcoming debt ceiling deal.
It is correct that most elected Republicans do not want to cut entitlements—because doing so would be political suicide. But this week we witnessed many pretend that the idea has never been a part of the Republican agenda. That is just plain false.
Rick Scott, the Florida senator who ran Republicans’ disappointing 2022 midterms operation, released his own plan last year that explicitly says: “All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.” That includes Social Security and Medicare.
Scott isn’t alone. Utah Sen. Mike Lee once said, “It will be my objective to phase out Social Security, to pull it up by the roots and get rid of it. There’s going to be growing pains associated with doing this. We can’t do it all at once.”
A few years ago, I reported at Business Insider that Trump informed some Republicans in Congress that entitlements would be on the chopping block at the start of his second term. And the list goes on.
Speaker McCarthy has said that Social Security and Medicare cuts are off the table in the debt ceiling talks. That doesn’t mean every Republican is happy about it—nor that those cuts are vanishing from many Republicans’ long sought-after policy goals.