There’s a curious little article in the New York Times about the contretemps I blogged yesterday over FreedomWorks’ Tea Party Debt Commission. The group was scheduled to discuss its report and findings at a meeting with Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee at 2pm Eastern. At the last minute, someone pulled the plug.
Who and why? The Fishwrap of Record’s Kate Zernike scoffed at the idea that Democrats were trying to suppress the grass roots activists’ voices:
A self-styled Tea Party debt commission was foiled Thursday in its effort to hold a Senate hearing on its proposals to reduce the deficit.
The 12-member commission, which was appointed by the libertarian group FreedomWorks, has been holding hearings across the country over the last several months. It had arranged for several Tea Party-aligned Republicans, including Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, to convene what they called a “hearing” Thursday afternoon in the Russell Office Building, one of the three Senate buildings across the street from the Capitol. There it planned to present its final recommendations in which it declares, against the argument of many Republicans and Democrats alike, that Congress can erase the national debt and reduce spending at the same time it preserves the Bush-era tax cuts.
But the Capitol police shut down the room where they planned to meet, after a suspicious package was found in the office of Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama.
Tea Party activists who arrived at Hearing Room 325 in the Russell building at 2 p.m. discovered Capitol police there, removing microphones and locking the room.
FreedomWorks staff members had been celebrating it as something of a coup that they were holding their “hearing” at the same time as a meeting of the joint Congressional committee charged with cutting $1.2 trillion from the deficit over the next 10 years. “Dueling debt committees,” they crowed in a press release earlier in the week.
Evicted from the Russell Building, they saw suspicious motives – big government strikes again! — and issued another press release declaring the shutdown “outrageous.”
After snarking about the press release, Zernike peddled the claim, via the Capitol Police, that “no foul was intended” and that the evacuation was done as “a security and life-safety measure” because of the suspicious package in Sen. Sessions’ office.
The problem with that is the package was reported at 1:30pm Eastern and then the area was deemed safe and cleared just a little after 2pm Eastern, according to Capitol Hill e-mails. From the Capitol Hill police:
The US Capitol Police has concluded its investigation of the suspicious package in Room 326 of the Russell Senate Office Building. All tests are negative and the area is now open.
Message sent from USCP Command Center – DO NOT RESPOND TO THIS MESSAGE
E-mails from Democratic staffers to Sen. Lee’s office make clear exactly why the citizens’ tax/budget reform meeting was shut down:
From: Stokes, Spencer (Lee)
Sent: Thursday, November 17, 2011 01:05 PM
To: Armstrong, Lynden (Rules)
Cc: McCoy, Ryan (Lee)
Subject: Re: URGENT: Tea Party Budget Hearing at 2:00pm
I am in Utah but I will have Ryan McCoy find you. This was an event to get input from some Utahns and others about the Debt.
I have cc’d Ryan McCoy.
From: Armstrong, Lynden (Rules)
Sent: Thursday, November 17, 2011 01:03 PM
To: Stokes, Spencer (Lee)
Subject: URGENT: Tea Party Budget Hearing at 2:00pm
Please call me ASAP or meet down at SR-325 about the Tea Party Budget Hearing that is scheduled at 2:00pm. There are two problems with this and that is they are simulating a hearing which isn’t allowed and the Rules Committee has determined events of this nature are political and not allowed. [emphasis added]
Cell is xxx-xxx-xxxx [Redacted]
Lynden C. Armstrong
U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration
305 Russell Senate Office Building
(202) 224-1912 Fax
Here’s the video again of Armstrong and Sen. Lee (with captions):
Funny thing is, members of Congress have been able to convene politicized “hearings” in government buildings for years. On the House side, Democrat Rep. John Conyers’ “basement hearings” on everything from impeachment to illegal immigration are legend.
On the Senate side, such non-official, non-hearing “hearings” are plentiful:
Here’s an announcement of a Republican Senate policy forum held by former Utah GOP Sen. Bob Bennett (the entrenched incumbent that Sen. Lee beat, as it happens) on climate chance and nuclear energy.
And here’s a transcript of another non-hearing hearing involving Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer (yeah, the guy responsible for shutting down the Tea Party debt panel) on the Valerie Plame affair.
The Times, however, preferred to use the unceremonious booting of the Tea Party group from a taxpayer-funded building to mock limited government activists — and take a swipe at Hillsdale College, to boot — while covering for unrepentant Tea Party-basher Chuck Schumer and Democratic staff off the hook.
And now you know, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story.
Update: Hold up. There’s more from Ben Howe at RedState…Was the Tea Party Kicked Out of the Capitol By Former Bennett Staffers Mad at Mike Lee?
Man, isn’t it amazing how the world just works to Senator Schumer’s benefit, even when he has no idea it’s going on?
So the only logical conclusions you can come to is that a) The staffers are lying or b) Chuck Schumer is lying.
My gut tells me the answer is c) all of the above.