Yesterday the Tea Party Debt Commission, a crowd-sourced deficit reduction panel hosted by FreedomWorks, ran into a bit of trouble. It was meant to run parallel to the bipartisan deficit “Super Committee” and thereby embarrass the heck out of them. Unfortunately, they were booted from the Russell Office Building of the Senate, on the grounds that security was heightened after a troubling but unrelated incident, and their “hearing” was a violation of Senate rules. Only the Senate is supposed to hold “hearings,” at which nobody hears anything.
The New York Times was openly contemptuous of the TPDC’s feelings of persecution:
Evicted from the Russell Building, they saw suspicious motives – big government strikes again! — and issued another press release declaring the shutdown “outrageous.”
“They’re kicking us out of our own building because they’re afraid we are going to do something crazy, like balance the budget,” said Matt Kibbe, FreedomWorks president.
In fact, Senate rules say that only official Senate committees can convene an actual “hearing,” so FreedomWorks had reason to believe that they had been shut down by Senate procedure (even if it didn’t deter them from going along with the plans for the “hearing” in the first place.)
But Sgt. Kimberly Schneider of the Capitol Police said no foul was intended. The area was evacuated “as a security and life-safety measure,” she said, “until we could determine that nothing hazardous was found” in Mr. Sessions office next door.
Senator Lee, however, declared it an “absolute lie” that the hearing had been shut down because of a suspicious package, and that the police had been “mistaken or misinformed.”
“The Rules Committee was threatening to shut us down,” he said in an interview. If there was a threat, he said, the building should have been evacuated. And he disputed the Senate rule. As a senator, he said, he can call a meeting with an outside group in a Senate office building. “Is the First Amendment so weak that someone calls it a ‘hearing’ and so we can’t have it?” he said.
Mr. Lee promptly led the activists down the street to a room at an outpost of Hillsdale College, a conservative institution that has taught its interpretation of the Constitution — but apparently not the Senate rules — to many Tea Party supporters. There, the activists resumed their meeting. Or hearing?
(Emphases mine.) What a knee-slapper! Those Tea Party guys are such a bunch of paranoid hayseeds!
Except it turns out Lee and the Tea Party were entirely correct, and the “security threat” story was bogus. Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin followed up, and discovered the “all clear” was given on the suspicious package alert before the TPDC hearing began. She also got hold of an email from a Democrat staffer to Senator Lee’s office that explicitly states the Tea Party lockout was a matter of Senate rules and politics:
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.
All very well and good… except the Senate is evidently used for unofficial “hearings” all the time, on subjects from “climate change” to the Valerie Plame affair. The “rules” against such hearings only became a problem when the Tea Party wanted to announce its deficit reduction plan. So what if they called it a “hearing?” Anyone who wandered into the room would have instantly known it wasn’t an official Senate hearing, because everyone was awake.
A tip of the hat to Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul, plus the folks at the Hillsdale College, who helped the Tea Party Debt Commission to hold its hearing anyway.