Katie Porter, AOC among House freshmen making their mark by grilling witnesses

Last month, embattled Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s House Oversight Committee hearing was in its fifth hour when Rep. Katie Porter’s five minutes to ask questions arrived.

“Mr. DeJoy, thank you for being with us today,” Porter, D-Calif., began. “What is the cost of a first-class postage stamp?”

DeJoy knew the price of the stamp — 55 cents — but was unable to answer Porter’s questions about the cost to mail a postcard, priority mail shipping rates and the number of Americans who voted by mail in the last presidential election.

“I’m glad you know the price of a stamp, but I’m concerned about your understanding of this agency,” Porter said as she moved the questioning to her real concerns after that opening salvo. “And I’m particularly concerned about it because you started taking very decisive action when you became postmaster general. You started directing the unplugging and destroying of machines, changing of employee procedures and locking of collection boxes.”

DeJoy said the changes that had caused slowdowns in mail delivery started before he took over the agency, and Porter turned to questions about who had ordered the changes (he didn’t know), whether he’d reverse them (no), whether he would commit to resigning if the inspector general found evidence of misconduct with his other businesses (he wouldn’t) and if he had any financial interests in Amazon (again, no).

The Aug. 24 hearing was the latest example of a trend that congressional observers have noted this term: Junior representatives like Porter, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Jamie Raskin, D-Md., are using their time to ask hard questions of witnesses, seeking actual answers, while more senior members are more inclined to play to the cameras, delivering speeches or lectures. 

Rep. Katie Porter at a House Financial Services Committee hearing with Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)
Rep. Katie Porter at a House Financial Services Committee hearing with Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Savvy observers have learned that the best time to listen to congressional hearings is toward the end, when the lower-ranking members get their time to ask questions.

The postal chief was only the latest in a group of witnesses who found themselves under uncomfortable scrutiny from Porter, a freshman representing Orange County. A former student of Sen. Elizabeth Warren at Harvard Law School and law professor herself at the University of California- Irvine, Porter wrote the textbook “Modern Consumer Law” and served as California’s independent bank monitor before she won a seat in her generally Republican district in 2018. 

Porter told Yahoo News that she has already had a few colleagues ask for advice on her approach to preparing for hearings. She said the most important thing is to define what you want to learn.

“What do you want to know from this witness?” she said. “It could be whether they understand a certain thing or who’s responsible for something, what their opinion is. … Start with the outcome you want to get to. And then you come up with lines of questioning that will get you there. That can look different

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