Tech Hearing Goes Off The Rails As Jim Jordan Flies Off Topic

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 29: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) speaks during the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law hearing on Online Platforms and Market Power in the Rayburn House office... WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 29: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) speaks during the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law hearing on Online Platforms and Market Power in the Rayburn House office Building, July 29, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee was scheduled to hear testimony from the CEOs of Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google. (Photo by Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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July 29, 2020 5:44 p.m.

As if by reflex alone, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) on Wednesday managed to divert a long-awaited congressional antitrust hearing featuring the CEOs of four major tech companies with a sideshow about “unmasking.”

The Ohio congressman took things off the rails a few minutes after 3 p.m. He’d just finished asking Google CEO Sundar Pichai about a nearly four-year-old email in which a then-Google employee referred to the company’s support for a get-out-the-vote program as a “silent donation.”

(Google denied that its “products or actions” were politically biased in 2018, when the story first broke, and Pichai said Wednesday that he’d “clearly communicated to our employees” that political activity should happen on personal time.)

Speaking after Jordan, Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA) said she’d like to redirect the witnesses’ attention away from “fringe conspiracy theories.” Jordan blew up.

“We have the email!” he shouted, at which point Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), chair of the antitrust subcommittee holding the hearing, gaveled him down and pointed out that Scanlon “has the time.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) yelled at Jordan to “put your mask on!” — a committee rule when a member is not speaking — and Jordan veered into a nonsequitor for the ages.

“If you want to talk about masks, why would the deputy secretary of the secretary of the treasury unmask Michael Flynn’s name, Mr. Raskin?” he said.

No one had an answer for the congressman, presumably because they were in the middle of a major antitrust hearing, the culmination of a year-long investigation, and he was speaking out of turn.

Scanlon got things back on track, pressing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on the company undercutting its main competitor in the diaper market, diapers.com, then buying the website and raising prices.

It wasn’t the first time for Jordan. Two hours earlier, Cicilline stopped in the middle of his introductions of the witnesses to chide Jordan for breaking the same mask rule.

In his first round of questioning, Jordan announced that “Big Tech is out to get conservatives” before ticking off various conservative outlets who’d suffered under Google’s thumb.

And Jordan’s episode, if perhaps a bit angrier than the others, was hardly the only off-key moment of the day.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), for example, asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg why his website had just suspended Donald Trump Jr. — even though Twitter had suspended the President’s son, not Facebook.

And Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) thought he’d take his time to “illustrate my question with a factual incident” — specifically, that he was looking for an article on the fringe website Gateway Pundit a few months ago and couldn’t find it on Google. When he tried again in his D.C. office, Steube said, he was able to find the article on Google.

What’s up with that? the congressman asked Google’s CEO, in more words. Pichai said he would look into it.

Then, Steube asked why his parents and other supporters were receiving his campaign emails in the spam folder.

“This appears to only be happening to conservative Republicans,” Steube said, citing as evidence that he hadn’t heard anything to the contrary.

Pichai said it sounded like the campaign emails were going into a separate Gmail tab, such as those for promotional emails, rather than the primary tab meant for personal messages. 

“Well, it was my father who is not receiving, now, my campaign emails,” Steube shot back. “So clearly that familial thing that you’re talking about didn’t apply to my emails.”

“Our systems probably are not able to understand that it’s your father,” Pichai said. “At least if you don’t have that context there.”

Rep. Val Demmings (D-FL), speaking next, briefly noted that she’d received complaints about campaign emails ending up in the spam folder as well, “unfortunately.”

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