Rep. Judy Chu, the last member of Congress to question Stephen Colbert during a hearing on migrant farm workers and an AgJobs bill, took issue with the media hand-wringing over the comedian’s in-character testimony, saying instead that he brought an important message to Congress and did a far better job covering the issue than any so-called straight reporter.
Several reporters criticized Colbert today, engaging in theater criticism rather than any substantive discussion of the issues involved. Mother Jones’ David Corn complained that Colbert was “making a mockery of this hearing,” and the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake concurred.
Chu, an actual member of Congress, didn’t agree. “The only thing Mr. Colbert’s testimony ‘made a mockery’ of today was our nation’s failed policies toward migrant farm workers and other undocumented immigrants,” she said in response to questions from FDL News. “His message, although unconventional and satirical, is an important one. These men, women and children toil through extreme heat and long hours to put food on American dinner tables. They deserve our appreciation and protection, and I’m happy Mr. Colbert helped bring attention to their plight.”
Chu, a Chinese-American, represents a heavily Hispanic district near Los Angeles, once occupied by current Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.
She maintained that the pundits “ignored the actual issues at hand during the hearing, like the Agriculture bill and the migrant workers who need our help,” and instead “misdirected their outrage toward Mr. Colbert’s delivery and tone instead of the real travesties here.”
“I think that’s due in large part to the fact that it’s easier to write a story or newscript about how out of the ordinary it is to have a comedian testifying to Congress, than it is to really delve into problems facing migrant workers,” she continued. “Tragically, I think it’s safe to say that the lone day Mr. Colbert spent working in the fields earlier this year gave him a better understanding of this issue than many people covering this story possess.”
FDL News also asked Chu about the final exchange between her and Colbert, when he got serious about why he wanted to bring attention to the issue:
CONGRESSWOMAN JUDY CHU: Mr. Colbert, you could work on so many issues, why are you interested in this issue?
COLBERT: I like talking about people who don’t have any power. And this seems like some of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet we still invite them to come here, and at the same time ask them to leave. And, you know, whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers, these seem like the least of our brothers, right now. And I know that a lot of people are the least of my brothers because the economy is so hard, and I don’t want to take anyone’s hardship away from them or diminish it or anything like that, but migrant workers suffer, and they have no rights.”
Chu said that she asked that question “because this is an issue that’s very important to me and has been for quite some time. I wanted everyone to understand why Mr. Colbert decided to take it on.” She applauded his answer. “Mr. Colbert’s response was a wonderful, heartfelt one and I think it really helped underscore why our country has a moral duty to address this issue.”
Many members of Congress wouldn’t dare pull back the curtain on the DC media’s petty, substance-free “reporting.” Rep. Chu wasn’t afraid to do so.
The AgJobs bill, HR 2414, would allow 2 million migrant farm workers to come to the United States through a guest worker program, with a path to eventually become legal residents. This would give them legal rights while working in the fields, rather than the legal black hole in which they currently find themselves. The bill has 63 co-sponsors, including 13 Republicans.
(That paragraph is more than you’ll hear about this issue on any show with Chuck Todd on it)
UPDATE: A slight clarification, per the United Farm Workers: the AgJobs bill is expected to allow current undocumented farm workers already in the United States a path to earn legal status, but the UFW analysis doesn’t expect it to add to the ranks of undocumented migrant workers. The migrants would need to pass criminal and national security background checks before earning legal resident status. So there’s a slight difference between saying it allows migrants to “come to the United States,” rather than that it allows those already doing the work a way to gain legal status.