Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, who'll be on tonight's show, no doubt expected a contentious hearing today when she appeared before the House Oversight Committee. But what she probably didn't expect is what Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) had in store for their exchange.
As the accompanying video shows, the Utah Republican put a chart on display, purporting to show that over the last decade, the number of prevention services provided by the health care group has steadily declined, while the number of abortions has steadily increased.
When Richards said she’d never seen it before, Chaffetz replied: “It comes straight from your annual reports.” Moments later, Richards shot back: “My lawyers just informed me that the source of this information is Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group. I would check your source.”
The Utah Republican lectured the Planned Parenthood chief, certain that the misleading image had come from Planned Parenthood materials. It apparently didn't occur to Chaffetz to actually look at the darned thing -- it literally says, "Source: Americans United for Life," in all capital letters, on the chart he was so excited about.
The GOP lawmaker thought he'd use this "proof" to embarrass Planned Parenthood, but it was Chaffetz who looked ridiculous.
Of course, this was just part of a long, multi-part hearing. Perhaps other Republican members of the Oversight Committee were better prepared?
Unfortunately, no. Paul Waldman's report
in the Washington Post
highlighted another noteworthy moment.
...Rep. Jim Jordan, one of the most conservative members of the House, used his time shouting at Richards because she admitted at one point that she had originally “apologized for the tone and statements” in the “sting” videos that started this controversy. Apparently Jordan imagined that in making this admission, she had fallen into a trap and would now have to admit that Planned Parenthood had committed some kind of misconduct. Watching his voice get louder and louder, it seemed as though Jordan was thinking, “I’ve really got her now.” But what did he actually prove? Nothing. Nor did any of the other Republicans. All seemed to have some very specific question they had prepared, one that was designed to produce a “gotcha” moment. But Richards didn’t have any trouble answering any of them, because the accusations that drove them aren’t all that controversial unless your starting point is that abortion is evil and so is anything in any way connected to it. That’s a position many people hold, but it isn’t a position most Americans hold, and it doesn’t actually tell you whether we should shut down the government.
Watching much of the proceedings, I was reminded of the congressional committee hearings in early August over the international nuclear agreement with Iran. Republicans had months to prepare their best arguments and sharpest questions, but they fired nothing but blanks
’s William Saletan attended all three hearings and came away flabbergasted
: "Over the past several days, congressional hearings on the deal have become a spectacle of dishonesty, incomprehension, and inability to cope with the challenges of a multilateral world.... I came away from the hearings dismayed by what the GOP has become in the Obama era. It seems utterly unprepared to govern."
It was hard not to draw a similar conclusion today. Republicans on this committee prepared for months to grill the Planned Parenthood president, having ample time to organize their thoughts, coordinate their lines of attack, read their own charts, etc.
But the GOP lawmakers, once again, seemed confused, lost in details they didn't understand.
Even for the most rabid, far-right opponents of women's reproductive rights, congressional Republicans are poor allies -- not because they're moderate or overly deferential, but because they don't seem to do their homework especially well. They create opportunities to advance their interests, but then let those opportunities pass as a result of negligence and incompetence.
Disclosure: My wife works for a Planned Parenthood affiliate, but she played no role in this report, her work is unrelated to the controversial videos, and she had nothing to do with today's congressional hearing.