The House Ways and Means Committee chairman was ready to send the panel's files on former IRS official Lois Lerner to the Justice Department for a possible prosecution -- a handover that could have been accomplished with a simple phone call to the attorney general. Instead, Camp put on a show. The Michigan Republican invited the press and the public to the committee's storied hearing room Wednesday, only to call an immediate vote to kick them out. This way, the panel could meet in a closed session to debate Lerner's fate -- a dramatic but meaningless gesture because the sole purpose of the secret meeting was to authorize releasing the committee's files on Lerner to the public.
Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday asked Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday to investigate Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS's tax-exempt division, the latest in a series of desperate moves intended to pretend this is a legitimate "scandal."
But it's not. In fact, the most striking thing about yesterday's House antics was the shamelessness with which Republican lawmakers conducted themselves. Dana Milbank was right to call out Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) for organizing a pointless circus.
Good political theater can at least occasionally be entertaining, but the Ways and Means Committee put on an elaborate show for no reason, struggling to maintain the facade that this fiasco had substantive value.
Milbank added, that Camp, who recently announced he would not seek re-election after his own party ignored the tax-reform plan he spent three years writing, was "on course to retire with dignity -- at least until he allowed his committee room to be turned into a circus tent Wednesday. It was a folly wrapped in a charade and shrouded by farce."
If the point was to generate some media attention for a "controversy" that was discredited several months ago, Camp's manufactured drama had some of the intended effect.
But GOP members of the Ways and Means Committee, which has traditionally been home to a slightly more serious approach to policymaking, went through the motions while hoping that no one asked some pretty obvious questions:
Why is the Ways and Means Committee asking for a Justice Department investigation that's already ongoing?
Why is the Ways and Means Committee releasing confidential taxpayer information while accusing Lerner of releasing confidential taxpayer information?
Why is the Ways and Means Committee putting on an elaborate show over the simple act of sending Holder a pointless letter?
Why is the Ways and Means Committee inviting reporters to a hearing in order to tell reporters they're not welcome?
Why is the Ways and Means Committee releasing a transcript of its own secret hearing?
Remember, if congressional Republicans had any confidence that this IRS story is a legitimate "scandal," these farcical theatrics wouldn't be necessary. Republicans could simply present the facts and follow a responsible, legal course, knowing that the damning evidence could speak for itself.
And therein lies the point: there is no damning evidence that can speak for itself, so GOP lawmakers have to put on a show. But that's something to be embarrassed by, not proud of.
What's more, it's poised to get even more ridiculous later today, when Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-Calif.) House Oversight Committee pushes this even further. More on that this afternoon.