If you haven’t seen or heard about it yet, earlier today Jon Stewart, on behalf of ill 9-11 first responders, threw a temper tantrum in front of the cameras during a House subcommittee hearing. Specifically the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. This subcommittee, a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, has fourteen members: 8 Democrats and 6 Republicans. And in today’s meeting Congressman Nadler, who is an ex-officio member as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, was also sitting in. At the point that Stewart decided to pitch his fit during his opening remarks about there being an “empty Congress”, seven of the subcommittee members were in the room. Though you could only see six of them in the video because of how the cameras were angled. The subcommittee meets in the same chambers as the full House Judiciary Committee, so even if everyone was there, the dais at the front of the room where the members of the subcommittee sit would look somewhere around 2/3 empty as there are 41 members of the full Judiciary Committee.
If Stewart did not know or did not understand that this was the case, then he’s a moron. More likely, he knew, understood the optics, and used them to gin up outrage. Stewart knew, was counting on, and was not disappointed that 1) it won’t be initially reported that this was a 14 member subcommittee and 2) most Americans will neither know, nor understand that this is why, despite at least half the subcommittee members actually being in attendance at the time he was ranting, most of the seats on the dais are empty.
The House is going to pass the extension without an issue. With an actual large numbers of votes from members of both parties. The vote to move it out of the Judiciary Committee is actually scheduled for tomorrow and it will pass there, and then the full House in short order, with significant bipartisan support. But once it does, it has to go across the Capitol to the Senate. Stewart knows, and if he doesn’t, then he should, that the problem isn’t the House or its Democratic majority. Rather it’s the McConnell controlled, GOP majority Senate. Should Senator McConnell deign to allow this to move forward, given he’s bottled up everything else the House has passed, he’s likely to demand ransom to do so. Why? Because he watched how Stewart manipulated the news media today to hammer the Democrats running the House of Representatives for failing to take care of 9-11 first responders who are ill because of their service on 9-11. Senator McConnell also knows that if he does nothing, because there isn’t going to be an equivalent hearing in the Senate to produce equally negative publicity, that he and his GOP majority in the Senate will take no blame. And because he knows that if it fails, Stewart will simply rebroadcast today’s video, the news media will follow like lemmings, and he’ll have made this a problem for Democrats going into a presidential election year where his Republican senators are defending more seats than the Senate Democrats are in 2020. Senator McConnell already had too much leverage and Stewart’s tantrum today simply gave him more.
Steve Cohen, who chairs the subcommittee, should have stopped Stewart, cut his mic if necessary, and explained that 1) this is a subcommittee with only 14 members, 2) as is standard procedure, subcommittee members would be in and out throughout the hearing as they had to do business, including taking votes in other committees and subcommittees (the ranking member actually did this at one point), and 3) Stewart could demagogue or the subcommittee could do the important business that Stewart wants them to do, but they could not and would not do both.
I appreciate Stewart’s passion. I understand why he’s angry. From his perspective even five year reauthorizations are a potential hindrance and failure to do right by the ill 9-11 first responders. But what he did today didn’t actually do anything to advance the cause he’s fighting for. It did make it easier for Senator McConnell to claim another scalp. Stewart’s bothsiderism served him, those for whom he’s advocating, and the Republic poorly today.