In November 2012, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) scheduled a press conference to complain about the lack of Benghazi information he’d received from the Obama administration. McCain didn’t realize there was, that very afternoon, a classified briefing underway on Benghazi – which McCain had been invited to, but did not attend.
About seven months later, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) was outraged by the lack of information he’d received from the administration about NSA surveillance. Adam Serwer, however, discovered that the congressman had chosen not to attend “classified briefings on the National Security Agency’s program over the last three years.”
A few months after that, House Republicans demanded a briefing from the White House on the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. The Obama administration agreed, but when it came time for the briefing, more than 90% of House Republicans didn’t bother to show up for the information they themselves had demanded.
All of which leads us to yesterday.
Obama administration officials held a closed-door, classified briefing on Wednesday in which they spent more than two hours detailing to senators the trade of five senior Taliban leaders for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, but many lawmakers decided to leave early.Officials from the State Department, Pentagon and intelligence agencies showed senators a “proof of life” video taken of Bergdahl in captivity. The presentation also informed lawmakers that Congress wasn’t informed of the exchange ahead of time as required by law, because the Taliban had threatened to kill Bergdahl if the deal was made public before it occurred.
Chuck Todd said he and his team had tracked down senators who went to the briefing, but they found “many” who admitted “they left early.” He added it’s “amazing that so many senators from both parties didn’t stay for the briefing until the end.”
As Igor Bobic’s report added, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, went on Fox News to complain about the inadequacy of the briefing while the briefing was still underway. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) didn’t bother to show up for the information at all.
It’s worth appreciating why this keeps happening.
To be sure, senators tend to be pretty busy folks, between votes, hearings, fundraisers, meetings, and assorted daily responsibilities. Their schedules tend to be unforgiving.
But in this case, all of Capitol Hill is talking about the controversy over the release of an American POW (yes, it is strange to type that there’s a “controversy” over an American prisoner of war being freed). Senators have been eager to express their opinions about Bowe Bergdahl, even while demanding more details from the White House about what really happened.
And yet, yesterday offered an opportunity for senators to hear directly from the Pentagon, State Department, and intelligence agencies in a closed-door briefing. Maybe the information provided by the officials was underwhelming; maybe their answers to questions were unsatisfactory. I wasn’t there and I have no idea what was said in the presentation of classified materials.
But either way, why not show up and stick around for the briefing?
I suspect the reason this keeps coming up, with one missed briefing after another, is that for many congressional lawmakers, the goal isn’t to get information; it’s to complain, criticize, and attack.
Members could go the briefings, but why bother? Their talking points won’t change based on additional information, so apparently additional information has been deemed unnecessary.