Top administration officials are at Congress today for a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Iran nuclear deal, a subject that has always brought out the crazy in American politicians.
No one expected this hearing to be anything other than a circus: The deal is politically contentious, and Republicans are trying to out-hawk one another for the coming presidential primaries. Congress did not disappoint. This tweet, from New York Times economics policy reporter Jonathan Weisman, captures the scene pretty nicely:
Now Sen. Ron Johnson is lecturing MIT physicist Ernest Moniz on electro-magnetic pulse weapons.— Jonathan Weisman (@jonathanweisman) July 23, 2015
A bit of context: Johnson is the senior senator from Wisconsin and a Republican. Ernest Moniz is the secretary of energy and one of the lead US negotiators on the Iran deal. Electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons are a nonsense science fiction "threat" and a longtime point of obsession among certain conservatives, such as Newt Gingrich and Ron Johnson. Johnson's line of questioning, to a top-of-his-field nuclear physicist, is a little like asking Neil Armstrong if he thinks the moon landing might have been faked.
Moniz, as is the obligation of administration officials at congressional hearings, did his best to entertain the senator's message:
Energy Secretary Moniz told Sen.Johnson he was not familiar with the EMP commission's findings. Johnson said he'd forward him some stuff— Laura Rozen (@lrozen) July 23, 2015
There were, naturally, other clown show moments. GOP Sen. Jim Risch said anyone who supports the nuclear deal "really joins the ranks of the most naive people on the face of the earth."
Risch added that Moniz and Secretary of State John Kerry had been "bamboozled" by Iran, but did not clarify whether they had also been run amok, led astray, or hoodwinked.
Sometimes congressional hearings can be productive. But almost always they will include a not-insignificant amount of circus time, particularly if it's on a politically loaded issue or if it's getting lots of TV coverage. This hearing is so far no exception.