The Spat That Made Congress Even Worse

Updated on Friday, May 17 at 3:27 pm

Three high-profile women in Congress got into it last night during a meeting of the House Oversight Committee, in what some outlets have described as a “heated exchange.” But that label feels too dignified. Instead, the whole scene played out like a Saturday Night Live sketch: a cringeworthy five-minute commentary on the miserable state of American politics.

Unless you are perpetually online, you may have missed the drama. I’ll recap: The scene unfolded during a meeting held to consider a Republican motion to—what else?—hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress for refusing to release audio from President Joe Biden’s interview with Special Counsel Robert Hur. So things were already off to a wild start. Then, after her line of questioning went off the rails, Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene took a jab at Representative Jasmine Crockett, Democrat of Texas: “I think your fake eyelashes are messing up what you’re reading.”

The personal remark was rude and certainly lacked decorum, which Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rightly pointed out: “How dare you attack the appearance of another person?” She demanded that the words be struck from the record. Greene, of course, was not chastened.

“Aww, are your feelings hurt?” the Georgia Republican shot back at Ocasio-Cortez, in a pitch-perfect impression of a schoolyard bully.

“Oh, girl. Baby girl, don’t even play,” Ocasio-Cortez replied, letting decorum slip on her side. It looked as if the committee was about to witness fisticuffs. Moments later, Crockett chimed in with a question for the committee’s Republican chairman, Jim Comer of Kentucky, that was actually an idiosyncratic barb directed toward Greene: “I’m just curious, just to better understand your ruling, if someone on this committee then starts talking about somebody’s bleach-blond, bad-built, butch body, that would not be engaging in personalities, correct?”

Comer was clearly confused, “A what now?”

The exchange felt like a bizarro session of British Parliament’s famously combative, point-scoring Prime Minister’s Questions, only the accents were worse, the insults were at least 50 percent less clever, and instead of congressional business as usual, it felt like watching business fall apart.

At first, admittedly, seeing people stand up to Greene’s bullying was heartening. An unabashed troll, she pulled the stunt of wearing a MAGA cap and heckling President Joe Biden at his State of the Union address. And mocking the eyelashes of a colleague at a congressional hearing? That’s next-level mean-girl garbage.

Unfortunately, the unedifying display in the House Oversight Committee only produced more incentives for bad political behavior. Progressive posters on X praised Crockett’s alliterative insult. Even LeVar Burton, the former host of the children’s TV series Reading Rainbow, applauded her: “Words of the day; bleach, blond, bad, built, butch and body …” Burton wrote on X.

Really, no one comes off looking good here. This may sound sanctimonious, but: Members of Congress should be better than personal insults and body-shaming commentary. And both Ocasio-Cortez and Crockett have to know by now that, as the idiom goes, wrestling with pigs makes everyone look sloppy. What would Michelle Obama—the patron saint of Democrats, who famously instructed Democrats to go high when Republicans go low—think of Crockett’s response?

Zoomed out, this unseemly episode is just one more sad example of partisanship and performance politics, two forces that continue to rile Americans up and drive us apart. Our politicians are not exactly covering themselves in glory right now. Back in 2009, Joe Wilson of South Carolina shocked the country when he yelled “You lie!” at then-President Barack Obama during his State of the Union address. Cut to January of this year, when Republicans heckled Biden, and he swapped jibes with them like a comedian at a low-rent comedy club.

While the leader of the Republican Party is on trial in New York, GOP lawmakers have been on a weeklong prostration tour, flying from all corners of the country to gather like eager groupies outside the courtroom, desperate for a chance to impress the boss. In addition, a Senate Democrat from New Jersey is on trial for taking bribes and acting as a foreign agent, and a Democratic congressman from Texas is facing his own charges of corruption.

Biden, an institutionalist, likes to appeal to our better angels and assure Americans, This is not who we are. Maybe not. But this is definitely who we elected.

Correction: This article originally misquoted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as saying, “Baby girl, you do not want to play.” In fact, she said, “Baby girl, don’t even play.”

Illustration Sources: Nathan Howard / Getty; Win McNamee / Getty; Samuel Corum / Getty; Anna Moneymaker / Getty.

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