As House Republicans kicked off their long-promised investigations into the Biden administration on Wednesday with a hearing looking into pandemic spending, Georgia’s Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene made her return to committees after being taken off them following far-right conspiracies she peddled on social media.
House Oversight and Accountability Committee chair Rep. James Comer of Kentucky criticized how the Biden administration handled pandemic funding. However, he and his GOP colleagues primarily attacked Democrats during the hearing, even though he claimed to be investigating fraud in the Covid Paycheck Protection Program and others.
At the first hearing of this Congress, the House Oversight and Reform Committee examined pandemic-era relief programs. Republican lawmakers claim that the programs were a waste of money and easy to abuse. The programs provided Americans with loans, grants, and unemployment insurance during the COVID-19 crisis.
“We owe it to Americans to identify how hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars spent under the guise of pandemic relief were lost to waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement,” Rep. James Comer, the GOP chair of the committee, said in a statement ahead of the hearing.
According to investigators who testified at the hearing, more than 1,000 people have been convicted of fraud involving some pandemic relief measures approved by Congress during the Trump administration and continued through the Biden years. To oversee COVID-19 spending, Congress created a committee composed of about 20 inspectors general. Michael Horowitz, the chair of the committee, testified during the hearing.
This week, Horowitz said, the committee issued a fraud alert regarding using over 69,000 questionable Social Security numbers to steal $5.4 billion.
Rep. Robert Garcia of California, the first gay immigrant elected to Congress, called out Republican politicians for acting as if the American people hadn’t just been through a catastrophic, once-in-a-lifetime disaster. While the mayor of Long Beach during the pandemic outbreak, Garcia lost his mother, a healthcare worker, and stepfather weeks apart. He pointed out to the committee that the country was utterly unprepared at the pandemic’s beginning and called on them to remember that.
“We’ve lost over a million Americans across this country. And just in Long Beach alone, we’ve lost over 1300 residents, friends, families, and neighbors,” Garcia said. “Personally, I lost both my mom and my stepfather to the pandemic. My mom was a healthcare worker, and so the loss is real for a lot of us. We also saw our economy collapse. Jobs were lost, businesses were closed. Folks became unhoused, and families and kids were greatly impacted, particularly around schooling and their ability to learn every single day.”
He continued, “I think it’s really important to also note that we had a catastrophic emergency and that the president and the vice president and all the folks in our agencies did and are doing the best job that they can to manage this emergency.”
It will take some time for the U.S. Secret Service to find stolen assets and hold criminals accountable for pandemic fraud, said assistant director David Smith.
While Democrats didn’t object to oversight of the programs, they criticized the GOP’s framing of the issue.
According to committee member New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Oversight Republicans had only sent letters to California, Pennsylvania, and her home state, probing their unemployment insurance systems ahead of the hearing. Therefore, she argued that targeting only these three blue states was highly questionable.
Greene returned to committee work by spreading lies and igniting controversy. Despite being removed from her previous committees in the Democratic-controlled House for her extremist social media activity two years ago, Greene now sits on two of the most powerful committees in the House: the Oversight and Accountability Committee and the Homeland Security Committee.
In the hearing intended to address “waste, fraud, and abuse” of billions in federal spending, Greene instead focused on manufactured right-wing culture war issues: critical race theory and drag queens. Greene asked Comptroller General Gene Dodaro how much “Covid cash” went to “CRT.”
Perplexed, Dodardo asked for clarification on what she was saying.
“Critical Race Theory in Education,” Greene began. “It’s a racist curriculum used to teach children that somehow their white skin is not equal to Black skin and other things in education.”
After Dodaro indicated he was not aware of any such expenditures but that curriculum funds were explicitly not included in the pandemic measures.
“Oh, Mr. Dodaro, I have to tell you, in Illinois, they receive $5.1 billion at an elementary school there that used it for equity and diversity. So it’s being used for these things.”
Greene was later ridiculed for her claim that one Illinois school had a budget far exceeding that of the city of Chicago for all schools.
“Can you tell me how much money was given to Drag Queen Story Hour?” Greene asked.
“Drag Queen’s story time,” she went on. “Where men dress up as women and read using Books to Children. [W]e need to look into this, and I urge you to do that. Bradbury Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Pennsylvania received $16,000 for Drag Queen Story Time from COVID cash.”
Greene added, “I think this is an issue that needs to be looked into.”
Garcia told The Advocate that Greene’s appointment to a critical committee such as oversight is laughable.
“The fact that Marjorie Taylor Greene was talking about drag queen story hour in a pandemic hearing is ridiculous,” Garcia said. “She was talking about critical race theory [and] drag queens while she should be focused on actually trying to work to prevent the next pandemic or work on how we make our systems better.”
He said, “I think it’s just a small example of how extreme she is and how her perspective on this issue is warped, and she shouldn’t be on this committee and let alone on the flight committee on the pandemic, which is totally insane.”
Garcia isn't shy about engaging in the subject matter after his experience in public office during the pandemic. The irony of Republicans like Greene being in control of investigating funding that went to fighting a virus many of them don’t even believe in is not lost on Garcia.
“I don’t think they understand or want to understand that this was the single largest loss of life event that we’ve experienced in the country in a generation,” Garcia said.
“Losing over a million people throughout this last couple of years is so significant, and they want to brush past that because they’re focused on lies and mistruths. They’re more interested in enriching millionaires and billionaires, and they’re more interested in cultural wars or attacking the trans community or the drag community than in solving any problems," he said.
Garcia added, “They have openly admitted — many of them — to not even taking vaccines, they’ve tried to discourage folks from taking vaccines, and they’re causing harm to people through their actions, and they want to warp what’s fact and what’s truth so that folks like Donald Trump get reelected. So I think it’s really important for Democrats to continue to vocalize the truth and the facts.”
He said that House Democrats are coming to the table armed with facts.
“This is a topic I know a lot about,” Garcia said. “So I was happy to share those remarks. I’ve been talking to the chairman about what we’re going to do and how we will push back on issues around the pandemic. And so I feel very strongly about us taking them on and laying out the facts.”