The ‘hearings’ copout

THE ‘HEARINGS’ COPOUT…. With so many leading Republican senators calling for a partial repeal of the 14th Amendment, it stands to reason that other GOP members will start facing questions about whether they agree. Given the importance of Arizona in the debate, and the fact the fact that Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) is helping lead the charge, it was only a matter of time before Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was asked to weigh in.

McCain co-hosted an event on the Hill this morning, giving the senator a platform to complain about the Recovery Act again. One of the questions from reporters, however, was whether McCain agreed with his Republican colleagues’ concerns about the 14th Amendment. He dodged the question and ended the press conference.

Some reporters, including Brian Beutler, followed him, pressing him to state a position. “Do you support the Minority Leader’s push for hearings into the repeal of birthright citizenship?” Brian asked.

“Sure, why not?” McCain said briefly.

“Do you support the idea itself?”

“I support the idea of having hearings,” McCain said.

“Do you have a problem with the 14th amendment?” another reporter asked.

“You’re changing the Constitution of the United States,” McCain said. “I support the concept of holding hearings.”

“I support the concept of holding hearings,” McCain repeated, turning to the rail car conductor. “Let’s go!” he snapped. “I don’t have anything to add to that.”

Don’t you just love the “straight talk”?

Similarly, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office is trying to clarify his remarks yesterday, insisting that he only endorsed a hearing to consider repealing portions of the 14th Amendment, not the repeal itself.

Greg Sargent noted, “In fairness to McConnell, calling for hearings into something really doesn’t constitute taking a stand on it. There’s a time-honored tradition in Congress where people support hearings into something in order to avoid taking a position.”

That’s true. Endorsing a hearing is a bit of a copout — a way for a senator to buy some time, neither endorsing nor rejecting a given idea — which allows a lawmaker to remain non-committal.

But in a case like this, the evasion only goes so far. If a liberal senator argued that the 2nd Amendment has been misinterpreted, had become dangerous to the public, and was in need of a partial repeal, McCain and McConnell wouldn’t just “support the concept of holding hearings,” they’d categorically reject it. They wouldn’t need a hearing to know whether they find the idea worthwhile.

By endorsing a hearing of partial repeal of the 14th, then, McCain and McConnell are implicitly arguing that the idea, explicitly endorsed by some of their GOP colleagues, has at least some merit — otherwise they’d dismiss the idea out of hand.