House Democrats on Wednesday walked out of a meeting of a congressional investigative panel launched in the aftermath of the controversy over Planned Parenthood's abortion practices, charging the proceedings amounted to a "witch hunt."
The meeting of the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives was to consider a report recommending that the biotech company StemExpress LLC and its founder Catherine Spears Dyer be held in contempt for refusing to comply to subpoenas seeking accounting records relating to research of fetal tissue.
After trying to adjourn the meeting twice, the panel’s six Democrats all walked out of the hearing room.
The remaining eight Republicans voted unanimously to advance the report, but it is unclear whether the report will go to the full Energy and Commerce Committee, under which the investigative panel operates, or if it will be taken up on the House floor.
StemExpress came under the spotlight after a series of sting videos showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue.
Republicans said they hoped the vote would put pressure on the company and its owner to hand over documents to determine if it engaged in illegal practices concerning fetal tissue.
Democrats repeatedly slammed the committee’s efforts, calling it a “kangaroo court,” and argued the panel was operating outside of House rules.
“This illegal meeting is a political sideshow with devastating consequences for anyone who cares about women’s healthcare or life saving medical research,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. said.
Chairwoman Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., maintained the panel was operating within the committee and House rules and that it was within the panel’s authority to hold entities in contempt of Congress.
“A subpoena is not a suggestion,” Blackburn said. “It is a lawful order and must be complied with.”
After a second vote failed to adjourn the meeting, Schakowsky said Democrats would be leaving.
“The Democrats are refusing to participate in this illegitimate and unsanctioned effort to seek criminal content,” Schakowsky said. “We refuse to sanction or endorse this exercise by continuing to participate.”
After walking out of the hearing, Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., called on Speaker Paul D. Ryan to disband the panel.
Schakowsky said the panel's GOP majority didn't inform Democrats what the hearing was about and took up a report they said could not be amended.
Democratic members repeatedly argued the subcommittee did not have the authority to hold anyone in contempt. They called the hearing and the work of the panel a “McCarthyesque witch hunt.”