Lots of empty seats.

Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

In Defense (Gulp) of Ted Cruz

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Republicans have a lot of reasons to oppose Ted Cruz, presidential candidate, but his bad attendance record at Senate committee hearings shouldn’t be one of them.

Politico reported this week that Cruz is a habitual no-show for Armed Services Committee hearings and, yes, these sessions provide important oversight and are generally well-attended. 

But let’s not go down this road. As I said when Democrat Kay Hagan (and other senators up for re-election) were being attacked for skipping hearings, this kind of Congress-bashing is counterproductive and mindless. 

Members of Congress have overbooked schedules, as David Price, a political scientist and longtime U.S. representative from North Carolina, explained in his book about what it’s like to serve in Washington. None of them go to every hearing -- nor should they. It’s an inefficient way of learning information, and most questions are for show, especially if they come from the junior members, even if the hearing as a whole performs valuable oversight.

Cruz may be a demagogue and a malignant force in the Senate and in the Republican Party, but he’s no slacker, as implied by the reporting. What we need instead of a seemingly objective but meaningless scorecard is an analysis of what serious work (if any) Cruz has done in his brief tenure in the Senate and an idea of whether he knows what he’s talking about on national security. 

Attempts to punish politicians for not attending those hearings will have the predictable effect of deterring Congress from holding any hearings at all. And Congress-bashing (or this kind of Cruz-bashing) diminishes its legislative and oversight capacity.  

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net