Democrats on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees used a Tuesday joint hearing on the Justice Department Inspector General’s report to take the Trump administration to task for the current crisis at the border, where thousands of immigrant children have been forcibly separated from their parents.
“Are we really going to sit here, 70 members of a Congress of the United States of America in 2018 and have a hearing that just repeats the hearings the Senate had yesterday on Hillary Clinton’s emails?” an outraged Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member on the Oversight Committee, asked his colleagues.
The hearing was slated as an opportunity to ask Inspector General Michael Horowitz about his 500-page report on the conduct of FBI officials during the 2016 election.
Before it even began, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, said he felt the need to discuss “a more immediate” issue: “the pictures of immigrant children ripped from their parents at the border.”
“We should not put children in cages,” Nadler said, before Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) cut him off and called the hearing into regular order. Capitol Police removed a few protesters who broke into chants of “families belong together” and the hearing got underway.
In a firey opening statement, Gowdy railed against former FBI Director James Comey, saying he and he alone decided “which DOJ policies to follow and which to ignore,” and attacking FBI agents and federal prosecutors for prejudging the outcome of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
Cummings followed up by saying that GOP lawmakers are only dissatisfied with the IG report’s conclusions because “the only answer [they] will accept is that Hillary Clinton must be guilty.”
The Maryland Democrat then went after Congress for continuing to harp on issues from the 2016 election rather than address “the key moral and ethical issue of the day, which is the president’s new policy to separate children from their families.”
Since late April, over 2,000 immigrant children have been separated from their parents and placed into camps along the U.S.-Mexico border thanks to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy forcing all adults who cross the border illegally into immediate detention.
Referring to the children’s facilities, where many are sleeping in cages, as “internment camps,” Cummings said the U.S. is “so much better than that.”
“This was a policy invented and executed by President Donald Trump,” Cummings said, before turning to his Republican colleagues.
“Mr. Chairman, we need you,” Cummings continued. “Those children need you. And I’m talking directly to my Republican colleagues. We need you to stand up to President Trump. We need you to join us in telling him that we reject this mean policy. We need you to tell him to abandon his policy. We need you to remind him that this is the United States of America and it is a great country. And we need you to stand up for those children.”
This pattern repeated throughout much of the day-long hearing. Democratic lawmakers devoted portions of their allotted time to decrying the situation at the border, while their Republican colleagues remained focused on the report’s fine print. Horowitz spent significant periods sitting quietly as representatives on each side made their points.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) said she was “tired of this discussion” about the report, saying the Oversight Committee on which she sits should instead “be using tax dollars to try to figure out why the President of the United States of America, his administration, are doing things that are so un-American as to rip children and babies from the hands and the hearts of their parents and putting them in cages.”
Watson Coleman added that “arrogant, dismissive” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen “has not a heart in her.”
Later in the hearing, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), who sits on both the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, called the day’s events “maddening.”
“I don’t know if colleagues are checking your emails or voicemails or Twitter feed,” Swalwell said. “People aren’t talking about the god damn [Clinton] emails. They are not. They are talking about kids separated from their mom and their dad.”
When Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) broke in to say that the GOP was introducing a bill this week to address family situation, Swalwell replied that it was a “partisan bill without Democratic support.”