After securing a slim majority in the House of Representatives, Republicans held an hours-long hearing of the House Judiciary Committee focused on “border security, national security, and how fentanyl has impacted American lives” on Wednesday. The February 1 hearing was but the first of a series of hearings focused on the border organized by the new Republican majority, who are intent on using it as a political weapon to repeatedly cudgel their opponents.
Titled “The Biden Border Crisis—Part One,” Republicans used the hearing as an opportunity to browbeat the president for his border policies. In response, Democrats and their supporters criticized the hearing as a publicity stunt that platformed extremism and nativist conspiracy theories.
Ahead of the hearing, Representative Greg Casar a newly elected Democrat representing the 35th District in Texas, did not mince words about what he expected.
“Right-wing members of Congress are openly embracing racist conspiracy theories, stoking fear, and spreading lies about immigrants,” Casar told members of the press. “Despite the very real and dangerous consequences their policies have.”
The past two years have seen record-high encounters with migrants along the southwest border, which are driven largely by rampant violence, political instability, extreme weather, and severe economic hardships related to COVID-19 in countries south of the border.
Various intersecting crises have caused a spike in asylum seekers, not just in the United States, but in smaller countries like Costa Rica, Mexico, and Colombia. An analysis by the Center for American Progress shows that, between 2019 and 2021, those countries saw massive increases in asylum seekers: 368 percent, 559percent, and 914 percent respectively. The United States only saw an 81 percent increase over the same period.
Despite not facing the brunt of the wave of asylum seekers, the increase in encounters on the southwest border has caused great alarm among Republicans whose punditry echoes the sort of xenophobic language that animated calls to ban the entry of Catholics, Chinese, and Filipino immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s. What’s more, Republicans have said this “invasion” is responsible for a dangerous flood of illicit drugs and deadly criminals, despite the fact that the overwhelming amount of smuggled narcotics (90 percent+) are carried by American citizens through official ports of entry and that the conviction rate of all immigrants, undocumented or otherwise, is lower than native-born Americans.
Republicans, such as Representative Chip Roy of Texas, went on to do just as Casar predicted, describing the situation at the border as an “invasion that is being aided and abetted by liberal activists who believe that subverting United States law is the best way to achieve their radical policy objectives.”
Democratic Representative Mary Gay Scanlon of New York responded, “What I find particularly pernicious is the attempt to conflate the issues of migrants seeking legal asylum through our legal processes with the very real scourge of fentanyl trafficking, which CBP data demonstrates overwhelmingly comes through the ports of entry in trucks and cargo ships, not on the backs of migrants trying to flee poverty or violence in their home countries.”
Despite this evidence, Republicans used their extremist witnesses to broadcast propaganda. Republican Representative Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin asked one of the witnesses, Arizona Sheriff Mark Dannels, if he agreed with reports that increased fentanyl distribution isn’t tied to illegal border crossings. “No,” Dannels said. “The criminal cartels are exploiting our border.”
Dannels, who serves as Sheriff of Cochise County along the southern border of Arizona, happens to be affiliated with the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA) a fringe ideology that proposes sheriffs can single-handedly overrule state and federal law. The February 1 hearing wasn’t the first time that Dannels used right-wing media appearances to demonize immigrants and spread falsehoods about the border.
Throughout the hearing, Democrats and Republicans used their question and comment periods to trade jabs. Little came out of the hearing in terms of shared groundwork for actual policies. The sparring started well before the substance of the meeting even began, when the House Judiciary Committee argued for over an hour about the Pledge of Allegiance.
Initially, Republican Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida proposed that each meeting begin with the pledge. In response, Democratic Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island proposed an amendment that the pledge cannot be led by anyone who has supported an insurrection against the United States. Some Republicans opposed the amendment as unnecessary, saying it “politicized” the pledge, and then implied that “defunding the police” was a comparably disqualifying offense.
“That’s extremely offensive,” said Democratic Representative Lucy McBath of Georgia. “I hope that you will gingerly, going forward, not make such broad statements about my colleagues on this side of the aisle.”
Republican Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana assured the committee, “I don’t think there’s any insurrectionists who’s going to show up to offer the pledge and if they would, they would not be recognized.”
But that depends on your definition of insurrectionist. The sitting head of the Judiciary Committee who oversaw the hearing, Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, defied a subpoena to share what he knew about former President Donald Trump’s role in the U.S. Capitol insurrection. Now, Jordan plans to lead a series of hearings on the border, Hunter Biden, and the alleged “weaponization” of the federal government—which have already seen Jordan issue subpoenas.
“Let’s work on real issues, like how do we grow our economy, instead of doing a hearing about what Twitter said about a widespread New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop,” said Democratic Representative Ted Lieu from California. “If we want to talk about how we honor our country, let’s make sure everyone complies with the law. And I know that the chairman of this judiciary committee ignored and defied a lawful, bipartisan congressional subpoena.”
Ultimately, Gaetz’ amendment passed and Cicilline’s was defeated, leaving open the possibility that an enemy of our democracy could lead the House Judiciary Committee in the Pledge of Allegiance. And while Cicilline may have prevented that twisted irony by volunteering to lead the pledge last week there are certain to be many more hearings. After all, Jordan, labeled a “significant player” in the 845-page report published by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, now leads the committee. The foxes are in the henhouse.