When the recent controversy involving Planned Parenthood and fetal-tissue donations first erupted, congressional Republicans acted with lightning speed to announce hearings on Capitol Hill. This was a national controversy, GOP lawmakers said, and Congress would demand answers.
And at that point, we had a pretty good idea about how the hearings would unfold. The original plan was to explore the scope of Planned Parenthood's work to ensure that the health care organization was, and is, complying with the law. Most expected a contentious hearing in which Planned Parenthood executives would be called to the Hill; conservative lawmakers would chastise them for a few hours; and there'd be a few criminal allegations with no foundation in reality.
That spectacle, of course, would have done very little to advance the debate, but what actually happened was nevertheless far more ridiculous. MSNBC's Irin Carmon reported on the House's first full day since its lengthy summer break.
The title of the proceedings was “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider.” No one was there from either Planned Parenthood, which was not invited....
That's not a typo. The House held a hearing about Planned Parenthood, but deliberately chose not to have anyone from Planned Parenthood testify. The title of the hearing made clear that the Republican majority on the panel had already made up its mind, so GOP committee members instead invited witnesses to tell Republicans how right they are.
I sincerely expected a four-hour shout-fest, in which the committee hauled Planned Parenthood before the committee and parading them in front of the cameras, complete with dramatic photos of the group's officials being sworn in before testifying. But GOP members skipped all of this, preferring instead to, as Carmon reported, hold several hours' worth of discussion about "what constitutes infanticide, the morality of various abortion procedures, how the line of a viable pregnancy is drawn and by whom, and so on."
At a certain level, there was an unstated concession at the core of yesterday's p.r. stunt. If Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee had evidence of Planned Parenthood doing something illegal and/or misusing public funds, GOP lawmakers would have made that the centerpiece of a very eventful afternoon.
But such evidence does not appear to exist. So we were instead treated to a hearing full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
If the goal was to create a foundation upon which congressional Republicans could build a case for a government shutdown, yesterday's hearing was apparently a dud.
Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this report and her work is unrelated to yesterday's congressional hearing.