Published September 24 2010
Stephen Colbert delivers the whole 'truthiness' to Congress
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., invited Stephen Colbert to testify as a witness at a hearing on giving undocumented farm workers the right to earn legal status by continuing to work in agriculture. The so-called AgJobs bill was before the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on immigration, which Lofgren chairs.
Colbert took no oath, so he chose to tell the "whole truthiness," as he often calls it on his show, "The Colbert Report." His opening statement was mostly a sarcastic screed done in character as his faux-conservative talk personality.
"I certainly hope that my star power can bump this hearing all the way to C-SPAN 1," he began. (The hearing was broadcast on C-SPAN 3.)
The issue of undocumented farm labor was so thorny, "the obvious answer is for all of us to stop eating fruits and vegetables."
The shtick wasn't an ideal fit with the congressional setting, and the dozen members who came to the hearing nervously shifted on the dais, with Lofgren occasionally nodding along to arguments spewed with a Colbert flair.
"This is America," Colbert continued. "I don't want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American. Then sliced by Guatemalan and served by a Venezuelan in a spa where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian."
The audience, a mix of young aides and immigrant advocates, occasionally laughed along with him, despite an initial admonition from Lofgren not to do so. Reporters and photographers were guilty as well.
Ostensibly, Colbert was invited to share his experience with a United Farm Workers program called "Take Our Jobs," which saw him working at a New York corn and vegetable farm.
What Colbert provided was a packed committee room in the Rayburn House Office Building. Dozens were turned away. Some members of the subcommittee surmised that the attention paid to the event rose to a level not seen since the Clinton impeachment proceedings.
"That's a haunting remembrance," Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said as he recalled the earlier tumult.
Colbert almost did not last long enough in the hearing room to make his statement.
Conyers eagerly greeted him early in the affair, but then asked him simply to submit his testimony in writing and leave the room. The room groaned.
"I'm here at the invitation of the chairwoman, and if she would like to remove me I would be happy to do so," Colbert responded.
Iowa Rep. Steve King, the Republican ranking member and a fierce opponent of illegal immigration, had his own serious jab at Colbert.
"Maybe amnesty supporters should spend less time watching Comedy Central and more time considering all the real jobs that are out there that require hard labor and don't involve sitting behind a desk," he said.
Colbert, seated at the end of a four-person witness table, smiled along.
Only a few members chose to engage Colbert, with Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., saying he was afraid of his remarks being taken out of context on the next show.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R- Texas, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, asked Colbert if he believed he was indeed an expert witness on the subject after only a day at the New York farm.
"I believe one day of studying anything makes me an expert," he said.
Was it hard work?
"It's certainly harder work than this," Colbert said.
Would Colbert support the notion of requiring all bills be posted online for 72 hours before a vote?
"I endorse all Republican policies without question," Colbert deadpanned.
"Thank you for your endorsement of the Pledge for America," Smith gleefully responded, referring to the GOP's fresh governing blueprint issued this week.
Colbert's appearance in Washington comes one month before he and fellow Comedy Central host Jon Stewart will hold dueling rallies — Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity," targeting moderates, and Colbert's counter "March to Keep Fear Alive."
(c)2010, Tribune Co.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.