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Why Democrats have to play along with the GOP’s biggest waste of time

The panels are tasked with probing whether the Justice Department is mean to conservatives and finding the origins of Covid. Good luck with that.

Nobody has ever accused the modern Republican Party of shying away from the dramatic. The House GOP caucus in particular has turned histrionics into an art form, honing its craft over years of horrifying symbiosis with conservative media. From that unending reservoir of dudgeon comes its latest affront to governance: two subcommittees designed to lend patinas of credibility to some of the right’s darkest conspiracies.

The innocuous-sounding “select subcommittee on the coronavirus pandemic” will be housed under the Oversight Committee. The much more aggressively named “select subcommittee on the weaponization of the federal government” will reside under the auspices of the Judiciary Committee. Both will be overwhelmingly packed with Republicans and will have absolutely no lasting legislative impact. But, unfortunately, we can’t outright ignore either of them.

Both of these ideas are bazonkers and obviously targeted at the more conspiratorial-minded among the GOP’s base.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is no true believer, but he mouthed the words his far-right captors wanted to hear when he announced the GOP’s select subcommittee assignments. “Unfortunately, throughout Democrats’ one-party rule in Washington we saw a dangerous pattern of the government being used to target political opponents while they neglected their most basic responsibilities,” McCarthy’s statement read, adding that the members of the pandemic subcommittee “will also finally get answers to the Covid origins and the federal government’s gain of function research that contributed to the pandemic.”

If none of those words are clicking for you, count yourself fortunate, but allow me to translate. The first half of McCarthy’s quote refers to the belief that the last several years have seen a massive uptick in law enforcement and national security agencies’ targeting conservatives for unfair harassment. The second half refers to the very much unproven “lab leak theory” that the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 was crafted in a Chinese laboratory researching deadly coronaviruses, using funding from the U.S. government and the support of former White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci, before it escaped into the world.

From where I’m sitting, both of these ideas are bazonkers and obviously targeted at the more conspiratorial-minded among the GOP’s base. I can see a world, though, in which a well-measured look into some of the questions the subcommittees could investigate might be useful. Is there actually any evidence of bias inherent in how law enforcement treats members of the far right? Should pandemic stimulus spending have had more oversight?

But the characters McCarthy has appointed to these panels all but rule out the odds of that sober-minded approach. The “Justice Department was mean to insurrectionists” subcommittee will be chaired by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio, who has said he wants to probe the “disparate treatment” of anti-racism protesters in 2020 and the rioters who attacked the U.S. Capitol in 2021. He’ll be joined by the likes of Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., a former Oversight Committee chair and onetime chief Obama White House antagonist, and Harriet Hageman, R-Wyo., who ousted former Jan. 6 committee vice chair Liz Cheney last summer in the Wyoming’s Republican primary.

The lineup on the “#plandemic” subcommittee is somehow worse. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, who will chair the panel, is a physician who is a co-chair of the GOP Doctors Caucus and has been a leading advocate of the theory that “COVID-19 may have been tied to China’s bioweapons research program.” He’s joined by Ronny Jackson of Texas, the disgraced former White House physician-turned-congressman who delights in using Fauci as a rhetorical punching bag, and Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene. The latter’s appointment is yet another reward for her recent loyalty to McCarthy, despite her years of spreading lies about Covid vaccines and mask efficacy.

It’s hard to overstate how much time and effort these two subcommittees will waste in the long run.

It’s hard to overstate how much time and effort these two subcommittees will waste in the long run. No legislation to come up through either of these panels has a shot at becoming law over the next two years. The reports they’ll eventually issue could theoretically be written today with the only citations coming from Breitbart, The Federalist and Tucker Carlson’s show. The odds of their uncovering actual evidence of malfeasance in the pandemic’s origins or in law enforcement’s treatment of conservatives are infinitesimal.

But these panels’ broad powers mean it will be impossible to ignore them entirely. Jordan’s is authorized to “scrutinize any issue related to civil liberties or to examine how any agency of the federal government has collected, analyzed and used information about Americans,” which will include “searching for evidence that federal workers have become politicized and demanding documents about ongoing criminal investigations.” Wenstrup’s body will have a shorter leash, but it will still be able to subpoena anyone it deems necessary, including Fauci, in pursuit of doing the same work as the last Congress, only worse.

It would be great if House Democrats could let these panels keep on keeping on and go about their own business. But McCarthy’s decision to pull his picks from the Jan. 6 committee in a huff really highlighted how much of a strategic error a Democratic boycott would be. Left to their own devices, the panel was able to craft a compelling presentation that would have been impossible without the unanimity McCarthy’s blunder afforded them.

As of this writing, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., has yet to name his picks to the subcommittees, which are also subject to McCarthy’s approval. Whoever he chooses will have a lot of thankless work on their hands, dealing with whatever nonsense GOP members spout at hearings and on Fox News. I feel deeply for the poor souls consigned to these most honorable roles, but someone’s gotta try to hold back the tide of madness that’s soon to ensue.