A top House Democrat said Sunday that TV comic Stephen Colbert’s in-character testimony at a congressional hearing Friday was “an embarrassment” to the comedian and wrong for the House.
“His testimony was not appropriate. I think it was an embarrassment for Mr. Colbert more than the House,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, on “Fox News Sunday.”
Mr. Colbert testified to the House immigration subcommittee Friday on illegal-immigrant agriculture workers, after he took the United Farm Workers’ “Take our jobs” challenge and worked a day in the field picking crops. But his testimony, delivered in the character of his television persona, mocked both parties, the institution of Congress, and at times even the immigration issue he was defending.
Republicans have blasted the performance, saying it shows Democrats’ priorities are amiss at a time when the unemployment rate remains close to 10 percent and so much business is left undone, including voting on whether to extend the Bush-era tax cuts before they expire at the end of this year.
“They’ve got time to bring a comedian to Washington, D.C., but they don’t have time to eliminate the uncertainty by extending all of the current tax rates? I think that’s irresponsible,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, told “Fox News Sunday.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the chairwoman of the subcommittee who called Mr. Colbert to testify, is also chairwoman of the House’s ethics committee, which has been unable to schedule two ethics trials for Reps. Charles B. Rangel and Maxine Waters, both Democrats who were charged over the summer.
She has not commented on the hearing since it ended, but her spokesman pointed to a statement from the full Judiciary Committee’s chairman, Rep. John Conyers Jr., who said he was “moved” by the comic’s testimony.
On Friday, while saying she hadn’t seen his testimony, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had said it was appropriate for the comic to testify.
“He’s an American, right? He came before the committee. He has a point of view. He can bring attention to an important issue like immigration. I think it’s great,” she said.
There is a long history of celebrities testifying to Congress on issues of concern to them. But Mr. Colbert, making lewd and disparaging jokes toward Congress and individual members, took more liberties than most celebrity witnesses.
Still, at times he grew serious, talking about the plight of migrant farmworkers and saying he did not envy the hard work they put in for low wages and tough working conditions.