Robert Mueller is expected to testify in front of a congressional hearing next Wednesday. At first, it seemed House Democrats issued his subpoena to get to the bottom of the most expansive presidential investigation in recent memory. Now it appears they simply want Mueller to give them the SparkNotes version of the 448-page report.
According to more than a dozen members of Congress interviewed by Politico, few lawmakers have read the Department of Justice’s report in full, and a smaller fraction of the American public has yet to study it beyond segments floating around social media.
“You can’t expect people to read lengthy documents in large numbers. They have their own lives to lead,” admitted House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York. “What’s the point?” said Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
That’s a curious revelation given the frenzy to see the full report that followed Attorney General William Barr’s executive summary in March. Sure, the report is dense, but it’s not like lawmakers are being forced to read Immanuel Kant’s “Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals.” They asked for the full version of the report, after all.
Mueller has stated the report is his testimony and that inquisitors won’t receive anything beyond what’s already between the covers of the document. Thus, taking the time to read it would save time and money next week, perhaps warranting dismissal of the much-anticipated hearing altogether.
What’s depressing, though, is the apparent “literacy gap” within the nation’s governing bodies. Naturally, a single member of Congress can’t read everything. Staffers routinely summarize bills and take notes in meetings on behalf of their bosses. But the Mueller report wasn’t a routine happening. In terms of anticipation, it was the congressional equivalent of a New York Times bestseller. If lawmakers can’t read that, how much faith should the country have in their capacity to read the legislation affecting everyday Americans?
At its best, Congress passes laws with adequate input from engaged parties. At its worst, Congress uses time constraints, arcane parliamentary rules and lengthy texts to push through questionable legislation. The Affordable Care Act measured more than 900 pages long, excluding volumes of regulatory language that would come sometime after its passage. Seven years later, Senate Republicans crafted the American Health Care Act in less-than-transparent circumstances, meriting a rebuke from Sen. John McCain. Neither circumstance allowed for debate or input from the opposing party. A fifth grader can tell you that’s not how a bill becomes a law.
Reading, or not reading, has become the latest excuse for members of Congress. When they are interested in delaying a tough vote on a divisive bill, they cry, "We haven't even had time to read this legislation. The opposing party is trying to jam this through without debate or compromise.” And when members are hurrying to get out of town for a recess or want to pass something in the dead of night, they will pass hundred-, even thousand-page bills without having had the time to print them, let alone read them.
Now, lawmakers are fast approaching a summer recess. Amid their fundraising and vacationing, it would be the perfect time to assess priorities and put reading at the top of the list. Until then, they have one week left to read Mueller’s tome before interrogating its principal author. Utilizing what they asked for would be the polite thing to do.