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Can decorum and civility be restored on Capitol Hill?


You might not hear about meetings of the House Oversight Committee very often, but you probably heard about this one. It was last Thursday, and it all started with Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia poking at Democratic Representative Jasmine Crockett of Texas.


MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE: I think your fake eyelashes are messing up what you're reading.

JASMINE CROCKETT: No, ain't nothing - listen, listen.

JAMES COMER: Hold on, hold on.

MARTIN: Crockett would not let it go. And eventually she said this.


CROCKETT: If someone on this committee then starts talking about somebody's bleached blonde, bad-built butch body, that would not be engaging in personalities, correct?

COMER: A what, now?

MARTIN: Many think pieces have ensued since then lamenting the loss of decorum on the Hill. But we wondered what, if anything, could reverse this. So we've called Grisella Martinez. She's had many senior roles on Capitol Hill as a chief of staff, as a top legislative aide and as a liaison for Vice President Kamala Harris. And she is with us now. Ms. Martinez, thank you so much for joining us.

GRISELLA MARTINEZ: Thank you, Michel. Glad to be here.

MARTIN: So I'm going to just start by saying this so you don't have to say this. Many people attribute this to kind of the environment established by former President Donald Trump, who also employed, you know, personal attacks. But having said that, does this matter? I mean, one could argue that some members really don't have an interest in governing, so this attention-seeking suits their interests.

MARTINEZ: Absolutely. There are a significant number of elected members in Congress who've been running on the Trump brand since 2016, and they're continuing to run on it in 2024. You know, he is the nominee, so we can expect more of that in how members kind of position themselves with an eye towards a potential Trump presidency.

MARTIN: OK, so let's talk about the other side of this. Let's talk about Representative Crockett. You can understand why she might feel the need to defend herself, but is that the best approach here?

MARTINEZ: I don't think that escalating is necessarily helpful in these situations, but when you give in to or you tolerate a bully, it usually only motivates the bully to keep bullying, right? And everybody, including members of Congress, has their own personal threshold of what they can reasonably tolerate. And I think most of us can relate to that.

MARTIN: The former first lady, Michelle Obama, famously said when they go low, we go high. But other people feel that that's not been an effective strategy here. And you can even see President Biden starting to respond to the former president, his likely opponent this November. If you were advising them, what would you advise them to do in response to these kinds of provocations?

MARTINEZ: I mean, I think President Biden has been doing a good job of dealing with these kinds of incidents. And frankly, I think many people were surprised when he directly addressed some of the heckling at the State of the Union this year - right? - and kind of did not kind of let it go and spoke directly to some of the comments that were made there, which, you know, is highly unusual. These situations are all going to be different. What you see in the House, in terms of how members of Congress are disciplined or not disciplined, that is something that we're going to continue to grapple with.

MARTIN: We've seen wild stuff on the floor of Congress before. I mean, back in the Civil War era, a member was physically attacked with a cane. So we've seen crazy stuff before, but we're in a moment now where this stuff gets amplified and it goes all over the world now. Is there any way to put this genie back in the bottle?

MARTINEZ: I think the scrutiny that these incidents receive via social media, and the quickness with which they magnify, is definitely a newer phenomenon. I think that there needs to be a conversation about the role that social media platforms play in civil discourse, especially when, you know, quote-unquote, "going viral" can often be a goal for people. I also think there's an interesting fascination by the media with women fighting that also comes into play here and which amplifies incidents where we see two women fighting with each other. And we know that women already face different perception hurdles by the public and in the media, especially women of color, in elected office. And so I think there's also a question here about what role does the media or social media play in some of these gendered narratives?

MARTIN: That's Grisella Martinez. She's a political strategist. Thanks so much for talking with us.

MARTINEZ: Thank you, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BUDOS BAND'S "EASTBOUND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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