Senate Democrats abruptly canceled a hearing at which President Joe Biden's new disinformation czar Nina Jankowicz was expected to testify, a decision made after embarrassing videos posted by the self-proclaimed "Mary Poppins of disinformation" sparked a political firestorm.
Senate Democrats planned to hold a May 10 hearing on "disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation," just a couple of weeks after Biden tapped Jankowicz to head his administration's newly created Disinformation Governance Board. Democratic leaders were reluctant to have Jankowicz face Republican questioning, however, prompting them to nix the hearing, three Senate offices told the Washington Free Beacon.
"They yanked it when the entire 'disinformation board' blew up," one senior aide told the Free Beacon. "They realized there's no way they could reschedule without Nina Jankowicz being called to testify."
The Senate's Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee had the hearing scheduled since April, but the optics of the hearing in light of Jankowicz's negative press led to its abrupt cancellation. Such hearings are normally sleepy events on Capitol Hill, but the controversy surrounding Jankowicz would have made the hearing a spectacle. The hearing would have been an opportunity for Republicans to question not only Jankowicz but also the creation of the board in the first place. The administration has refused to answer questions about its decision to give the disinformation post to Jankowicz, who has drawn criticism for falsely labeling Hunter Biden's laptop a "Russian influence op" and for her flamboyant TikTok videos.
Canceling Senate hearings on such short notice is out of the ordinary and typically does not happen unless a witness or expert falls ill or has a last-minute scheduling conflict. The disinformation hearing, according to multiple Senate offices, had been scheduled since early April and was planned for May 10.
The committee is helmed by Sen. Gary Peters (Mich.), who also chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the organization tasked with maintaining Democrats' Senate majority. Aides speculated the event was canceled to insulate vulnerable Democrats from the political blowback of the disinformation board.
"We have at least one Democrat who has a tough reelection coming up this cycle," the aide said, referring to New Hampshire senator Maggie Hassan. "It's pretty insane."
"Peters is running cover for the administration," another aide said. Peters did not respond to a request for comment.
Concerns about Biden's appointment of Jankowicz to run the disinformation board surfaced immediately after Biden announced it late last month. Critics have said the agency may unfairly target conservatives. Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) has proposed legislation to defund the board altogether.
Although the board is officially tasked with monitoring alleged disinformation from Latin America and hostile countries such as Russia, the Department of Homeland Security has refused to offer more details on its purview. Both Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and former White House press secretary Jen Psaki said they were unfamiliar with Jankowicz's past criticisms of conservatives and calls for censorship on social media.
Unanswered questions about the board's mission and the appointment of Jankowicz have raised concerns even from the left-leaning media, with the Washington Post criticizing DHS for failing to explain "what precisely [the board] is—and what it will do." The Nation said Jankowicz's past work "should have set off alarm bells" in the administration.
The canceled disinformation hearing is not the first time politics have gotten in the way of scheduled Democratic hearings. The Free Beacon reported in March that House Democrats canceled a follow-up hearing with oil and gas executives. Congressional Democrats did not cite a reason for why that March meeting was canceled, although Republicans on the Hill speculated it was due to the poor optics of attacking oil companies for energy production during a period of historically high gas prices.