House

Conservatives blame McCarthy for Twitter getting before favorable committee

House conservatives are blaming Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for Twitter's decision to have its founder publicly testify before the Energy and Commerce Committee instead of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where a number of conservative members sit.

The far-right Freedom Caucus and its allies argued that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was likely to get a more favorable reception from the Energy and Commerce panel in comparison to Oversight, which counts Freedom Caucus leaders Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) among its members.

"The majority leader talks tough on tech then sends [Dorsey] to the friendly confines of the industry-friendly Energy & Commerce Committee," Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who says he has been unfairly censored on social media, told The Hill.  

Gaetz, who is not a Freedom Caucus member, said that when he complained to McCarthy, the leader told him he should trust the members of the other panel.

"I had a discussion with him about this. He told me to trust my colleagues more," Gaetz said.

In a brief interview in the Capitol, McCarthy downplayed the spat and said it was clear that Energy and Commerce had jurisdiction over communications and technology issues, especially when it pertains to broad-based consumer issues. The Energy and Commerce Committee also has its own oversight and investigative subcommittee.

"It's the same thing we do with any bill. People go to the jurisdiction. E&C has the jurisdiction over these things, so that's why it went to E&C," McCarthy said Wednesday, a position that was echoed by Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).

Asked if he personally made the decision for Dorsey to appear before Energy and Commerce, McCarthy replied, "No, it's not my call."

Both panels had aggressively fought to get Dorsey to appear before their committees so they could grill him on allegations of conservative bias on social media. Both invited Dorsey to testify.

Freedom Caucus members say McCarthy played a pivotal role in convincing Twitter and Dorsey to choose the Energy and Commerce Committee over the Oversight committee.

McCarthy sent a letter to Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) in August calling for him to invite Dorsey to a hearing.

"I would like to request a hearing with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey so that the American people can learn more about the filtering and censorship practices on his platform," McCarthy wrote.

Conservatives say McCarthy could and should have done more to get Dorsey to go before Oversight.

A leadership aide said it's not up to leadership to dictate to private or public companies which committees - or how many - they should appear before.

Some conservatives believe maneuvering for future leadership fights played a role.

Jordan  - who says he has been directly targeted by Twitter's anti-conservative bias - also is challenging McCarthy for the Speaker's gavel. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who is backing McCarthy, plans to retire from Congress in January.

Denying the Oversight panel a chance to take a crack at Dorsey undercuts Jordan, his allies believe.

"It kind of seems like McCarthy doesn't want to elevate Jordan," said one conservative senior GOP aide.

But two other potential McCarthy rivals - Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) - sit on the Energy and Commerce Committee and will get a chance to question Dorsey on Wednesday afternoon, when he appears before the panel. So will conservatives like Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who is running for Senate, and Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas), Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) and Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) - all three of whom are Freedom Caucus members.

McCarthy, once a darling of Silicon Valley, has been aggressively leading the GOP charge against tech companies, one of President Trump's new favorite punching bags. The majority leader, who is close to Trump, has tweeted over a dozen times last month to "stop the bias," referring to what critics say is a pattern of censoring conservative voices on social media.

His letter to Walden came after Twitter denied in a blog post that it practiced "shadow-banning" - or hiding tweets and profiles of misbehaving Twitter users without removing them from the site - of users based on political leanings.

That controversy started after prominent conservatives aligned with Trump, including Jordan, Gaetz and Meadows failed to appear on Twitter's auto-populated drop-down search box when users typed in their names.

That's why Meadows and Jordan, who each chair an Oversight subcommittee, were itching to have Dorsey testify in front of their panel, where he would likely face a tougher grilling.

"There is a real frustration among those of us that were targeted by Twitter that there was not a more inclusive process to allow us to be a part of the questioning of Jack Dorsey," Meadows told The Hill.

Some Oversight members asked to join Wednesday's Energy and Commerce hearing, which would have required unanimous consent (UC) from the panel, but were rejected.

"I thought allowing us to be UCed in to participate in the hearing seemed like a very reasonable request that was ultimately denied by the committee," Meadows said.

The Oversight Committee could subpoena Dorsey to force him to testify, but Jordan said that decision is up to Gowdy as chairman.

"All I know is, we were working to try to get them in front of Mark's subcommittee and our subcommittee," Jordan told reporters on Wednesday. "But Dorsey wouldn't agree."

Walden said the Energy and Commerce Committee is better equipped than the Oversight panel to handle the issue, because his committee has both oversight authority and the jurisdiction to take legislative steps, if needed.

"OGR is a great committee, but it has very limited legislative ability," Walden told reporters on Wednesday. "So this is a bigger discussion about, get the facts, build the case, and see where we go legislatively."

Walden declined to say whether he talked to GOP leadership or members of the Freedom Caucus about Twitter's decision to appear before Energy and Commerce.

"I'm not going to get into that," he said.

On Wednesday morning, Dorsey and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on election interference. Dorsey then appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee later in the afternoon on censoring and filtering practices.

-Juliegrace Brufke contributed

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