It seems as if people have gone virtually insane in this election year over remote testimony. We recently discussed the absurd excuse cited by former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe that he would not appear for testimony to answer questions about his alleged misconduct in the Russian investigation due to fears for his health. He then however refused to appear virtually despite the earlier remote testimony of his former superiors James Comey and Sally Yates. Now, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), who once enthusiastically supported the use of “hybrid hearings,” has declared that remote testimony is entirely unacceptable because there is no ability to have exchanges with witnesses in a virtual space. The objection to the use of a hybrid hearing for Barrett is now part of a wider campaign, but it is based on a clearly false premise. While such bizarre statements would have once risked being called a lunatic or a Luddite, it has produced little media scrutiny or commentary.
In speaking with Chris Wallace, Klobuchar rejected the use of remote testimony as completely unacceptable. Wallace however noted that Klobuchar previously praised the use of such hearings. On May 6th, she sat for a remote confirmation hearing of Judge Justin Walker for the D.C. Appeals Circuit and thanked Chairman Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) for allowing the members to appear remotely.
Wallace reasonably asked if Klobuchar was now attacking the use of a hybrid hearing “to try to block a nomination that you frankly oppose fiercely.”
“Absolutely not. This is for the highest court of the land. And, yes we have had virtual hearings. I helped to put them together. It’s important to give senators that option. But you want to be able to go back and forth with this nominee.”
Wallace delicately pointed out that he and the senator were going back and forth remotely without any difficulty in that very interview. Klobuchar then appeared to get tangled up in her narrative:
“Again, we believe you should have an in-person hearing. That doesn’t mean the virtual option wouldn’t be available, but why would you ram — I guess I’d turn the question around here, even though you get to ask the questions — Why would you ram this through when we don’t even have a COVID package done to make sure that people have health care.”
So you can have a hybrid hearing?
There is of course no difference in the “back and forth” of in-person as opposed to virtual testimony. I have testified over 50 times in Congress and there is generally no interaction with the witness beyond the questions and answers. While some members will shake hands with a witness, even that practice would likely be curtailed in a live appearance during the pandemic.
There is a good faith objection that the Republicans have reversed their position with Merritt Garland on this nomination — just as there is a legitimate objection that Democrats like Klobuchar have reversed their prior positions from 2016. However, the objection that remote testimony does not allow exchanges with witnesses is obviously absurd.
Nevertheless, the Democrats now appear to be paraphrasing Woody Allen’s rule in arguing that “Eighty percent of [politics] is just showing up.”
Update: The President just said that he also has problems with virtual space in declaring that he would not “waste my time” in participating in the announced virtual debate with Biden. While one can question the necessity of this precaution, it is hard to see how a virtual debate for a presidential election would be a waste of time. It certainly would be of value to voters.