Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D., Texas) got into a confrontation with acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker during a hearing Friday, demanding he not "joke" with her questions.
The argument drew in the leaders of the House Judiciary Committee, with Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.) demanding Whitaker follow Jackson Lee’s directions and the committee's ranking member, Rep. Doug Collins (R., Ga.), pushing back. Jackson Lee had asked Whitaker whether he ever appeared before an oversight hearing or was confirmed in the Senate, and Nadler demanded he "answer the question as asked."
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Nadler accused Whitaker of stalling but got pushback from the Republican Collins, who said Jackson Lee’s demand of "yes or no" was inappropriate.
"If he feels that a yes or a no is appropriate, he’ll answer in a yes or a no; if he does not feel it’s appropriate, he should be able to answer in the appropriate way, as many other Democrats have done before this committee before," Collins said. "This is unreal."
"I will not allow the witness to stall and waste members' time," Nadler said.
"Where were you when Ms. Lynch and Mr. Holder were here?" Collins replied, referring to the Obama administration's Attorneys General Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder.
After Jackson Lee repeated her question to Whitaker, she quickly looked around and asked to confirm her time had been restored, interrupting the attorney general as he began to answer. When the congresswoman turned back to Whitaker, he hesitated and said, "I'm sorry, what was your— I don't know if your time's been restored or not," prompting some laughter from the room. Jackson Lee was indignant.
"Mr. Attorney General, we're not joking here, and your humor is not acceptable," Jackson Lee said. "Now, you're here because we have a constitutional duty to ask questions, and the Congress has the right to establish government rules. The rules are that you are here, so I need to ask the question, and I need to have my time restored so that you can behave appropriately."
Whitaker then was allowed time to explain how his ascension to be acting attorney general came about.
"Congresswoman, I am an acting attorney general. I have been appointed according to the Vacancies Reform Act, and I have never appeared in front of Congress for any hearing, even when I was United States attorney," Whitaker said.
Despite Whitaker’s clear answer, Jackson Lee complained she wanted a yes or no answer, but Nadler indicated to her that the questions was answered, so she moved on.