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Mark Zuckerberg recently testified before Congress about Cambridge Analytica data scandal:

He testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee for nearly five hours. It was his second and final hearing this week in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, bringing the once press shy CEO’s total time testifying on Capitol Hill to about ten hours.

Just after the hearing, I have heard a local analyst arguing that some members of the Congress shows that they lack some fundamentals related to how social media actually works.

Indeed some argued about what this testify should include in order to be catch important issues. E.g.: is it clear who actually got the data? Willingness for regulation. GDPR in US.

Assuming a Congress person understands his/her limits related to how the social media deals with the data, can he/she appoint another person (e.g. a professional who understands much better these things) to participate on his/her behalf?

Question: Can a Congress member allow a non-member to ask questions / argue during a testimony before the Congress?

NOTE: This question deals with a technicality related to how Congress hearings work, not about the actual content of Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

  • That is why they have a massive number of paid staff and interns working for them. Unfortunate that they lack the sense to get the right staff on the job. – PoloHoleSet Apr 13 '18 at 17:04
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Yes. In the RULES OF THE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND COMMERCE, 115TH CONGRESS, (Adopted January 25, 2017), and still showing as in effect on the Website of the Committee, under Rule 3 Hearings, we find the following

(d) Questioning.
(1) The right to interrogate the witnesses before the Committee shall alternate between majority and minority members. Each member shall be limited to 5 minutes in the interrogation of witnesses until such time as each member who so desires has had an opportunity to question witnesses. No member shall be recognized for a second period of 5 minutes to interrogate a witness until each member of the Committee present has been recognized once for that purpose. The chairman shall recognize in order of appearance members who were not present when the meeting was called to order after all members who were present when the meeting was called to order have been recognized in the order of seniority on the Committee.
(2) The chairman, with the concurrence of the ranking minority member, or the Committee by motion, may permit an equal number of majority and minority members to question a witness for a specified, total period that is equal for each side and not longer than thirty minutes for each side. The chairman with the concurrence of the ranking minority member, or the Committee by motion, may also permit committee staff of the majority and minority to question a witness for a specified, total period that is equal for each side and not longer than thirty minutes for each side.

(note I slightly reformatted the above to be slightly easier to read, but made no wording changes)

In section 2, we see that with the concurrence of the ranking minority member, or the entire Committee by motion, (the Chairman) may "also permit committee staff of the majority and minority to question a witness for a specified...".

So the answer to the question about whether a non-member may ask questions is, yes.

  • Good catch. I wouldn't have suspected that, but the rule is clear. – ohwilleke Apr 14 '18 at 2:58
  • Anecdote in evidence: Watergate Hearings – Drunk Cynic Apr 16 '18 at 19:24
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No. It has to be the elected official on that committee who asks the question. Having said that, there is nothing in the rule book that says a tech savvy congressional staffer can fully write the question a Senator is going to ask. More importantly there's nothing in the rule book that says they can't either.

It's well known joke on the hill too. There was a congressional benefit for the Shakespeare Theater Company in D.C. last year which featured a scene where the interns fled the summer heat of D.C. and were followed by members of congress who were terrified because without the interns, they had no clue how to access their own Twitter accounts and had no clue what the President's new Foreign Policy stances of the day were.

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    Although I believe your answer is correct, you should add references backing up your claims. Otherwise, saying "yes, non-members can ask questions" is equally valid if nothing is cited. – Giter Apr 12 '18 at 14:27
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    Second paragraph was from the 2016 "Will on the Hill" event. I attended in person. First part is from family who worked for a very tech-un-savy representative, and that particular family member wrote a bill for her (and explained it) that required a lot of technical understanding. – hszmv Apr 12 '18 at 14:32
  • I think most of the rules on questioning of witnesses are governed by rules of each committee, here are the rules e.g. for the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. The Rules of the Senate really only provide general guidelines on how the committees conduct business. Here are the rules of the House Energy and Commerce Committee – Jeff Lambert Apr 12 '18 at 15:15
  • Please explain what has changed in congressional between now and the Watergate hearings, which were led by unelected lawyers representing the established senatorial committee. – Drunk Cynic Apr 16 '18 at 19:23

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