Congressional hearings hit by broad array of rule-breaking, disruption

There are rules on Capitol Hill.

Some are written.

Many are not.

It’s not unusual for lawmakers to banter with a committee chairman when they vehemently disagree about how they’re running a hearing. The unwritten rule is that lawmakers won’t try to incinerate the hearing from the start.

But that wasn’t the case at the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Tuesday.

“Good morning. I welcome everyone to this confirmation hearing on the nomination…” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, just after rapping the gavel to begin the proceedings.

That’s as far as Grassley got. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., skyjacked the opening remarks of the Iowa Republican.

“Mr. Chairman,” interrupted Harris. “Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman. I’d like to be recognized for a question before we proceed.”

Someone on the dais demanded “regular order.”

And just seconds into the hearing, Grassley fired a warning shot across the freshman senator’s bow.

“You’re out of order!” thundered Grassley. “I’ll proceed.”

“We cannot possibly move forward, Mr. Chairman,” beseeched Harris.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., then moved to adjourn as the session devolved into chaos. Cadres of protesters hectored lawmakers the back of the room.

“This is a mockery and a travesty of justice!” excoriated one demonstrator. “This is a travesty of justice! We will not go back!. Cancel Brett Kavanaugh! Adjourn the hearing!”

The protesters protested. Senators then tangled for an hour and 17 minutes over documents and procedure until Grassley was finally able to return to his opening statement.

The rules say you can’t disrupt Congress. But there is a First Amendment. Few things are more American than expressing your grievances before Congress.

But how you protest on Capitol Hill is an “unwritten” rule.

U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) are trained to give some degree of latitude to demonstrators – but not to the point that it sidelines actual Congressional business.

You can’t disrupt Congress. But that didn’t stop scores of protesters from barking at Kavanaugh.

USCP typically give protesters a verbal warning. But police move in if demonstrators don’t comply.

Those arrested are typically charged with violating one of two laws in the District of Columbia: D.C. Code §22–1321 - Disorderly conduct or D.C. Code §22-1307, Crowding, Obstructing, or Incommoding. Those arrested are fined $35-$50 fine and released.

Protesters are not supposed to then just head back and protest again.

This can be a grey area.

Fox is told there was an agreement between the Judiciary Committee and  USCP to bar those already arrested from returning immediately. It’s ultimately up to the committee to determine who is permitted at a hearing. However, USCP were on the lookout for “repeat offenders.” Does that mean they spied everyone who came back? No. It’s an imperfect system. In fact at the Kavanaugh hearing, one set of onlookers entered the room, only to be escorted out before they were seated.

This is the “written” way USCP are supposed to handle demonstrators and interlopers. But Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., engineered an “unwritten” technique to handle protesters at another hearing this week.

USCP officers may sport badges and service revolvers. But none bear the laurel of being voted the “Ozarks Best Auctioneer” seven times.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified Wednesday before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing about threats to conservative speech. Demonstrator Laura Loomer rose toward the back of the hearing room with a phone affixed to a selfie stick. Loomer rambled loudly about “shadow banning” and alleged that “Jack Dorsey is trying to influence the election.”

Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., called for the USCP to remove Loomer. But it took a while for them to get there. So, in an effort to drown out Loomer, Long launched a cadenced bid call, similar to what you might hear at a Saturday estate sale in southern Missouri.

“Ten. Twelve-and-a-half. 15!” chanted Long. “Seven-and-a-half. Twenty dollars. Two-and-a-half. Seven-and-a-half. 30!”

Long’s incantation continued until USCP arrived and removed Loomer – by the book.

It’s certainly not written anywhere that you can’t bring up important policy issues when swearing-in a new member of Congress. But Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, bucked that trend when the House welcomed its latest member, Rep. Troy Balderson, R-Ohio. Balderson eked out a narrow victory in a special election last month over Democrat Danny O’Connor. It’s a seat that’s long been in Republican hands. Political observers view the race a bellwether for the upcoming midterms.

Kaptur is the most-senior female in the House and dean of the Ohio delegation. She introduced Balderson to the House – and then noted what it took Republicans just to maintain the seat.

“We all know the demands required to compete in any election and yours drew so much national attention. It’s estimated over $10 million was expended overall on the race. About 60 times what the job pays,” said Kaptur.

That prompted groans and catcalls from lawmakers.

“Perhaps on a bipartisan basis, Ohio’s representatives could join together to lead our nation to limit campaign spending and be the first state to end this mad dash to excess cash,” continued Kaptur. “A real scourge on the foundation of representative government.”

Boos and hisses cascaded through the chamber.

Several lawmakers told Fox they thought Kaptur was out of line – especially at a swearing-in ceremony. But Kaptur says it was the perfect time to raise the subject.

It’s not written anywhere that you’re not supposed to do what Kaptur did. But some frowned on her tactic.

Finally, back to Kavanaugh.

On Thursday morning, Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, claimed he was breaking Senate rules and could face expulsion by releasing confidential messages belonging to Kavanaugh about racial profiling.

“I understand the penalty comes with potentially ousting me from the Senate,” said Booker. “I openly invite and accept the consequences.”

Senate Rule XXIX (29) states that “Any Senator, officer, or employee of the Senate who shall disclose the secret or confidential business or proceedings of the Senate, including the business and proceedings of the committees, subcommittees, and offices of the Senate, shall be liable, if a Senator, to suffer expulsion from the body; and if an officer or employee, to dismissal from the service of the Senate, and to punishment for contempt.”

Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution grants the House and Senate the right to expel members, provided two-thirds of the body agrees.

Those are the written rules.

But it’s an unwritten rule that the Senate doesn’t bounce its members.

The Senate’s only expelled 15 senators in history. None since Sen. Jesse Bright, D-Ind., in 1862.

Then it was discovered that the emails Booker released weren’t even confidential.

If you’re going to break a rule, there has to be a rule to break. Sometimes written. Sometimes not.

Capitol Attitude is a weekly column written by members of the Fox News Capitol Hill team. Their articles take you inside the halls of Congress, and cover the spectrum of policy issues being introduced, debated and voted on there.