House GOP Invokes Church Committee, but Echoes Earlier McCarthyHistorians in the News
tags: Republican Party, Joseph McCarthy, Church committee
Lawmakers point to outrageous abuses of the federal government’s unchecked law enforcement and intelligence apparatus, vowing to get to the bottom of the dirty business and root out the shadowy figures responsible.
Americans have seen that scenario play out multiple times in history, with the latest example being the successful push by House Republicans to create the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government to investigate purported instances of federal agencies such as the F.B.I. and the military pursuing political foes and agendas.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other Republican backers of the new panel portray their effort as akin to the Senate’s famed Church Committee, a highly regarded bipartisan inquiry in the mid-1970s. Informally known by the name of the panel’s chairman, Senator Frank Church, Democrat of Idaho, the committee uncovered serious wrongdoing at the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the N.S.A., among other entities, leading to heralded civil liberties protections and much more aggressive congressional oversight of the intelligence community.
Mr. McCarthy on Thursday described the new committee as “Church style” as he trumpeted the first week’s work of House Republicans, including the creation of the panel.
“Government should be here to help you, not go after you,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters.
Democrats and historians see darker historical parallels. They liken the Republican zeal to pursue nebulous allegations of deep-state conspiracies to the “red scare” days of a McCarthy from an earlier era: Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, Republican of Wisconsin.
Both the McCarthy hearings in the 1950s and investigations by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1930s and 1940s have come to be seen as sordid, painful chapters in the congressional past, a series of communist witch hunts that needlessly destroyed lives. Lawmakers unleashed unfounded allegations in pursuit of sensational headlines and nonexistent infiltrators and traitors, and Democrats warn that the same could happen again.
“This seems less Church and more McCarthy,” said Beverly Gage, a history professor at Yale and the author of a 2022 biography of J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime head of the F.B.I. known for his own misuse of the agency to pursue those he opposed politically.
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