IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Why the hearing on Twitter, Hunter Biden backfired on Republicans

Republicans held an oversight hearing, intending to prove government abuses. It backfired in ways the GOP should've seen coming.


Republicans and their allies had looked forward to Wednesday’s House Oversight Committee hearing for quite a while. At long last, GOP lawmakers would pull back the curtain on rascally Democrats conspiring with equally rascally Twitter employees to suppress stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop, squelch conservative criticisms, and silence voices on the right.

It was, Republicans assumed, going to be awesome.

Even before the hearing began, the Biden White House marveled, not only at the odd timing of the Oversight Committee’s gathering — the day after the State of the Union, GOP lawmakers probably should’ve at least pretended to take an interest in actual governing — but also at the subject matter. White House spokesperson Ian Sams said the hearing would inevitably be “a bizarre political stunt.”

If anything, he understated matters. NBC News reported Wednesday on key elements of the hearing actually backfiring on the Republicans who organized it.

The House Republicans’ hearing on Twitter’s “role in suppressing the Biden laptop story” took some unexpected twists Wednesday — including one witness testifying that the White House had requested the platform remove a Chrissy Teigen tweet insulting then-President Donald Trump.

Remember, the whole point of the hearing was to explore the extent to which Democrats pressured Twitter to suppress content from conservatives. It was against this backdrop on Wednesday that Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia asked Anika Collier Navaroli, a former member of Twitter’s content moderation team, about this September 2019 tweet from Teigen, a prominent model and television host, criticizing Donald Trump.

“The White House almost immediately thereafter contacted Twitter to demand the tweet be taken down. Is that accurate?” Connolly asked.

“I do remember hearing we’d received a request from the White House to make sure we evaluated this tweet, and they wanted it to come down because it was a derogatory statement directed at the president,” Navaroli said.

The tweet was not taken down, but the relevant detail was the revelation that the Republican White House tried to squelch criticism of the then-president.

What’s more, this was not the only new detail to emerge Wednesday that undermined the point of the hearing:

  • In response to questioning from Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, former Twitter employees acknowledged that Trump published racist content that ran afoul of the company’s standards and policies, so Twitter altered its standards and policies to accommodate the Republican’s offensive content.
  • Former Twitter employees confirmed that the FBI did not direct the social media company to block a New York Post article about Hunter Biden’s laptop, despite Republican claims to the contrary. James Baker, Twitter’s former deputy general counsel, said, “I was not aware of and certainly did not engage in any conspiracy” with government or campaign officials to suppress the story. “Moreover, I’m aware of no unlawful collusion with or direction from any government agency or political campaign on how Twitter should have handled the Hunter Biden laptop situation,” Baker added.
  • The witnesses testified that Twitter could’ve done more to prevent the Jan. 6 attack, but executives made a conscious decision not to.
  • The Biden campaign did ask Twitter to remove “non-consensual nude photos” of Hunter Biden from the platform, which Republican Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida found scandalous for reasons I still don’t understand.
  • Republicans had to be reminded of what the First Amendment means and how it applies to private companies.
  • Hundreds of thousands of counterfeit Twitter accounts set up to advance Russian propaganda and disinformation remain active on the platform.

After the proceedings concluded, Trump turned to his rival social media platform to celebrate. “Congratulations to Congressmen James Comer, Clay Higgins, Pat Fallon, and all of the Great Republican Patriots on the House Oversight Committee,” the former president wrote. “What an important and incredible job you are doing. ... Hope the LameStream Media is covering this historic event!”

Either the Republican was watching something else, or he didn’t understand what he’d seen. This hearing — months in the making — did real damage to his and his party’s cause. GOP members had plenty of time to get ready for this “historic event,” but they nevertheless showed up unprepared and were caught flat-footed when the hearing produced the opposite of the intended evidence.

The question isn't why the hearing backfired; the question is why Republicans didn't see this coming.

Toward the end of the hearing, Ocasio-Cortez argued that partisan operatives were effectively “weaponizing the use of this committee.” It was tough to disagree: House Republicans held an oversight hearing, intending to prove government abuses. They sort of succeeded — by highlighting abuses that made Republicans look worse, not better.