Sen. Barbara “First In Law” Boxer Demanded Public Packwood Hearings
Congressional Review (Courtesy of Majordomo)
July 21, 1995 The 'First In Law' In Her Own Words
''We do not go in the back room, light up a cigar, and decide these cases...''
July 21, 1995 Barbara Boxer
Mr. President, opponents of public hearings in this case have raised three objections.
First, they say public hearings on this matter would bring the Senate into disrepute. I argue that the opposite is true. As former Chief Justice Brandeis said, `Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.' By acknowledging problems and demonstrating a willingness to discipline our own, we strengthen the Senate and the bonds with the people. We win confidence from the people by discharging our responsibilities frankly and openly--no matter how controversial the issue. But we irrevocably lose the people's respect by sweeping our problems under the committee room rug. The Senate is not a private club; it is the people's Senate . We do not go in the back room, light up a cigar, and decide these cases...
Now, why are public hearings important? Because they demonstrate to the people--out in the sunlight--that we take seriously our constitutionally mandated responsibility to discipline our own, to discipline our own for unethical conduct. Each time an allegation of misconduct surfaces, the bonds of trust between the Congress and the people are strained. But by facing these allegations head-on, by holding public hearings and supporting appropriate disciplinary actions, we begin to repair those bonds of trust. Covering up our problems and attempting to hide them from the people only makes matters worse. And that is not the way we should function as a democracy.
Mr. President, I have taken the Senate's time today to discuss this issue because it now appears that the Ethics Committee is on the verge of abandoning its well-established procedure of conducting public hearings, in a case currently before it--a case that has reached the investigative stage. In my view, such a significant departure from established practice demands the attention of the full Senate and of the American people.
For more than 2 1/2 years, the Ethics Committee has been considering very serious allegations against the junior Senator from Oregon. On May 17 of this year, the committee completed its inquiry of the case and voted unanimously to proceed to the final investigative stage. In adopting its resolution for investigation, the committee found `substantial credible evidence' to support numerous allegations of sexual and official misconduct.
It is my view that the Ethics Committee should follow the normal practice of the Senate and hold public hearings on these allegations promptly. There is nothing about this case that warrants making an exception. I am very disappointed that a number of Senators have advocated the opposite, and have indicated their desire to keep this investigation behind closed doors.
Second, opponents of public hearings in this case say that the allegations are so explosive that hearings would degrade into a circus-like atmosphere. I understand these concerns. However, I have confidence that the committee can discharge its responsibilities with dignity.
What is the message here? Is it that the more embarrassing the charges, the more a Senator will be protected behind closed doors? That would be a terrible message to send to the American people. I ask another question: If all the other issues were dealt with in public, is it a signal that if the issue were sexual misconduct you get the safe haven of a private club? That would be a terrible message.
Third, some opponents of hearings in the open argue that these hearings would be unfair to those who make the complaints because they could be subjected to uncomfortable questions and difficult cross-examination. I am confident that the committee will treat all witnesses fairly. In fact, several of the complainants in this case traveled to Washington to ask the Senate to hold public hearings.
Moreover, the Ethics Committee can decide under current Senate rules to close any portion of a hearing if it decides it is necessary to protect a witness. That is an important point. Under the rules of the Senate , the Ethics Committee may close any part of a hearing to protect a witness. If it is true that hearings in this case would be painful--and it probably is--I must ask, is it the responsibility of a Senator merely to avoid painful issues? The Anita Hill hearings were painful, and what came of it? A national debate about sexual harassment that led to increased public awareness and better laws.
Embarrassing? So were the Watergate hearings. Painful? So were the Waco hearings, where this week a young girl went before a committee and millions of viewers and described in detail the most despicable sexual abuse. The description was so graphic, in fact, that the committee felt compelled to warn television viewers in advance. Hurtful? Think of Vince Foster's widow, who 2 years later has to turn on the television and see that story before her again.
Mr. President, personal discomfort is, unfortunately, part of our job.
I hope I have explained why holding public hearings in this case is also part of our job. There is no reason to make an exception in this case and break with well-established procedures. That is what this issue is about. I also feel obligated to discuss what this issue is not about. It is not about any other Senator. It is not about partisan politics. It is not about personalities. Perhaps the most shocking thing to me in this process has been the private and public threats to a Senator who simply wants to continue the tradition of public hearings. I will not be deterred. I believe most Senators will support public hearings.
Mr. President, I urge the Ethics Committee again today, on this Senate floor, to call a meeting of their committee, which last week they canceled, which this week they have not scheduled, to open this particular case to the public. It is, without doubt, the right thing to do.
However, if the committee refuses to do this, I will have no alternative, as I have said before, but to bring this issue to the Senate floor directly. My legislation is ready. It is straightforward. I will offer it at the earliest opportunity next week if we have no action.
In my view, a major procedural change overturning decades of well-established precedent must be debated by the full Senate . I think this is very, very serious. The charges are serious against the Senator, but equally important, is that the precedents of this U.S. Senate not be cast aside.
I yield the floor.
....what do you expect, Barbara Boxer has about as much integrity as Chuckie "Two Votes Bought And Paid For" Schummer.