If you thought the freshman congresswomen in the U.S. House Oversight Committee were going to fumble this year's first major testimony, you were absolutely wrong.
Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Katie Hill, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib — all who've been in office less than two months — grilled convicted felon and fixer Michael Cohen, effectively laying the groundwork for the committee to subpoena the tax returns and other financial information from his former client, U.S. President Donald Trump. The foursome showed more backbone than plenty of veterans who spent more time grandstanding during the hearing than using their time to ask the necessary questions to uncover new information.
Cohen didn't hold back during his testimony. As a man who quite literally has nothing left to lose, the former Trump confidante claimed the president has engaged in a laundry list of ethical breaches and criminal acts, plenty of which Cohen help facilitate. The disgraced lawyer talked about potential witness tampering, lies about payoffs such as the one to adult actress and director Stormy Daniels, violations of campaign finance laws, the falsifying of financial records, and more — the kind of corrupt conduct that exists in the shadows among the highest echelons of America.
Few lawmakers truly engaged with that information, but the freshman congresswomen were not among them. For example, Hill — who ran what she called the "most millennial campaign ever" — zeroed-in on Cohen's hush payments to Daniels (née Stephanie Clifford), which were made allegedly under Trump's instruction. Pressley grilled Cohen on his knowledge of misconduct within the Trump Foundation, which dissolved last year after New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood launched an investigation into the charity, and on whether the president is racist. (Cohen answered "yes" to the latter.) Tlaib also advanced the case of Trump's racism, before getting into a spat with Rep. Mark Meadows.
Is there additional corroborating evidence that Mr. Trump, while a sitting President of the United States, directly reimburse you hush-money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws? —Rep. Katie Hill— TODAY (@TODAYshow) February 27, 2019
There are 11 checks —Michael Cohen pic.twitter.com/8QAjONcTUb
Ocasio-Cortez, on the other hand, gained praise for the way she sharply got Cohen to give the committee a list of names of Trump associates who have inside knowledge of certain troubling practices by the president and because she pushed the case for Democrats to subpoena his tax returns. "It was very clear that she was prepared ... She was deliberate and forceful — but not rude, which was distinctly different from a lot of the Republican representatives who yelled and screamed," Patti Wood, author of Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma, told Refinery29. She added: "What I found most interesting is she was listening to what he said. That's actually unusual. She listened and then she did follow-up questions based on what he said instead of going into the next question. ... She was focused on her goal: To get information."
The 29-year-old congresswoman, who sexist critics have often derided as a "bimbo" who has no place in Congress because she used to be a bartender, spoke frankly of how the new crop of freshman congresswomen — specially those who are millennials like her and Hill, or people of colour like her, Tlaib, and Pressley — consistently face the fatal duality of nearly impossible standards to meet and the absolute lowest of expectations they will get there. "People think it’s a joke when folks say we have to work 2x as hard for the same seat. Whether you believe it or not, the upside is when we do get here, we’re used to being held to a diff bar," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. "To being doubted. To getting new hoops thrown @ us last min. So we know how to perform."
If Wednesday's hearing was any proof, however, the freshman congresswomen are only getting started.