Rep. Pramila Jayapal is on a list. Over the past two days, the Democrat from Washington has orchestrated two of the most memorable exchanges in two separate sessions of the House. In the first, she exposed the naked racism and political motivations following Attorney General William Barr’s attacks on Portland protesters. In the second, she caught all of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a series of lies about Facebook business practices.
During Barr Jayapal’s interrogation on Tuesday, the attorney general tried to counter that law enforcement officers used tear gas to disperse protesters for the president’s photo near Lafayette Square in June. Officials agreed to use chemical eye irritants during the attack on the demonstrators, but, Barr said on Tuesday, “tear gas is a special ingredient” that was not used. Jayapal stood firm. “I’m starting to lose temperature,” she told him, as he refused to address the content of the question for the third or fourth time.
Barr also tried to defend the deployment of federal agents to stop racial justice protests in Portland under the guise of protecting a federal building. Meanwhile, he denied ever hearing about armed protesters in Michigan who, seeking an end to house arrest orders, attacked the state capital and threatened to lynch Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in May. Jayapal stressed the inequality in his responses to these two groups of demonstrators. When Barr tried to interrupt him to say he only cared about protests affecting federal property, Jayapal interrupted him. “This is my time, and I control it,” she said. She continued:
When protesters carry Confederate and Swastika guns and flags and call for the governor of Michigan to be beheaded and shot and lynched, somehow you are unaware of this… because they are making the president’s personal agenda. But when black people and people of color protest police brutality, systemic racism, and the president’s own lack of response to those critical issues, then you forcibly remove them with armed federal officers, pepper bombs, because they are considered terrorists by the president.
Unlike her fellow Democrats, who effectively questioned Barr over racism within the police force and his intimidation about mail-order voting, Jayapal did not take Barr to the record with any particularly blessed statement. But her line of questioning offered more than just the abhorrent pleasure of a good burn, and the pleasure of watching a righteous lawmaker exercise her power over a man who abuses her regularly. Most people do not have the time or inclination to watch long congressional hearings. If there is big news, they will read the headlines or watch the clips on their nightly shows, but much of the content of these hearings often goes unnoticed. Reacting to Barr’s wild deviations with the anger they sought, Jayapal assured she would make headlines. Then, she gave viewers and readers a concrete example of the racist hypocrisy of the Trump administration, in clear language. Unlike Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who said in a speech Tuesday that “anarchists should be prosecuted,” leaving some progressives to argue that Trump and Biden are “two sides of the same coin” – Jayapal did nothing qualification eaten. She concentrated the blame where it belonged: not on political dissidents, but on state entities that try hard to suppress them.
Her questioning line offered more than the hated pleasure of a good one burns.
On Wednesday, Jayapal came out again in the spotlight. The House Judiciary subcommittee brought together tech giants – Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s Sundar Pichai and Apple’s Tim Cook – to answer questions about their ancient competition practices. Jayapal began questioning Zuckerberg by quoting emails and statements from numerous Facebook executives, including the CEO himself, who said Facebook should block competitors from gaining market traction and duplicating their products if necessary. Then, she asked him, “Has Facebook ever taken steps to prevent competition from finding the basics by copying competitors?”
Zuckerberg dodged. So she rephrased: “Since March 2012, after that email chat, how many competitors did Facebook copying end up in?” “Congresswoman, I – I can not give you a number of enterprises,” replied Zuckerberg.
After Zuckerberg said he did not remember any conversation in which he would threaten to copy the competitors’ products if they did not allow Facebook to win their businesses, Jayapal read aloud quotes from an online chat transcript he told Zuckerberg doing just that, in conversation with the Instagram founder. “Facebook is a case study, in my opinion, in monopoly power, because your company collects and monetizes our data and then your company uses that data to spy on competitors and copy the buying and killing of rivals,” he said. Jayapal. “These tactics strengthen the dominance of Facebook, which you then use in the most destructive ways.”
These hearings are not trials. In some cases, their public value is largely theatrical: Photos that have been invoked to show protection and stagnation as members of Congress pontificate from their seats, setting up a show for their constituents. Wednesday’s hearing fits this form. The antitrust subcommittee had already investigated these companies for more than a year, conducting hundreds of hours of interviews and collecting more than 1 million documents. At the hearing, members did not release much new information. Their main task was to make public the information they already had – and to take care of their constituents. And Jayapal has proven itself to be quite adept at combining performance with substance.
If there were any illusions that elected officials in this pseudo-democracy could be trusted to uphold the laws governing it, the events of years past should have extinguished that hope. Powerful corporations and politicians will not police themselves, and many members of Congress will not risk angering the donor class if there is no public protest to justify it. Jayapal not only caught Zuckerberg in a defensive stance regarding the unjustifiable consolidation of Facebook’s power in the technology industry. It laid the groundwork for the rest of America to understand what Facebook has done, to understand the cynicism of Zuckerberg’s remaining self-extermination, and to bridge the gap between Facebook’s anti-competitive strategies and its role in the erosion of American democracy. If Congressional Democrats ever hope to build popular support for breaking or imposing stricter monopoly rules like Facebook, they will need people like Jayapal – who represents a district where many Amazon employees live – to sell to the public. in the urgency of this number.
There is a lot of value in tackling abuses of power directly, in public opinion, with such clarity.
Jayapal Lobster Week comes on the heels of another powerful Home show. Last week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stood on the floor of the House and addressed her Republican colleague, Rep.Ted Yoho, who would call her a “fucking bitch” in front of an audience of reporters. She got a lot of acceptance (and deserved) press coverage of her speech, in which she put Republicans who have used their wives and daughters as shields against allegations of malignancy. Some will dismiss quoted, passionate addresses made for TV like her – and hot exchanges like Jayapal – as annoying belts with little concrete political import. But there is great value in tackling abuses of power directly, in public opinion, with such clarity. It gives people who have not paid much attention an accessible explanation of why they need to work and the language they need to explain it to others.
It also gives many of us a worthy representative of our impotent anger, turning feelings of helplessness into those of power. Yoho insists he said bullshit, no bitch, and besides, he says, Ocasio-Cortez deserved it; Zuckerberg insists the threat he submitted to Instagram was not a threat at all. Enough to make any rational observer, angry if she is going crazy – and yet, here are two members of Congress who insist she is not. It is a frightening prophylaxis against political apathy to see the rage of a seemingly uncontrollable injustice expressed on a public stage by an elected official. Democracy is representative democracy at work.
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