Nightly News | September 24, 2010
WILLIAMS: Good evening.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: A lot of people weren't quite sure what to make of it when they first saw it. Then, as it went on, some decided it was an example of what government isn't doing quite right these days. On Capitol Hill today a very serious political issue, immigration, was turned over, intentionally, to a scripted farce to make a point, as the comedian Stephen Colbert brought his fictionalized late night cable TV character to an actual congressional hearing, where he'd been invited to testify about a single day he spent on a farm courtesy of the Farm Workers Union . He was hardly the first celebrity to testify before Congress , but nobody had seen anything quite like this before, and there's never been a climate quite like this one before. Our White House correspondent Savannah Guthrie is here with us in our New York studios with more on this to start us off. Savannah , good evening.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE reporting: Good evening to you, Brian . Well as is customary in Washington , Colbert submitted prepared written remarks before his testimony, and they looked straight forward enough; but when he sat down to testify, he went off script and into his comedy routine. And not everyone is laughing tonight. On Capitol Hill today, more evidence of why some Americans think Washington is a joke. The comedian Stephen Colbert was billed as an expert witness on farm labor and testified in character.
Mr. STEPHEN COLBERT: Congresswoman Lofgren asked me to share my vast experience, spending one day as a migrant farm worker . I am happy to use my celebrity to draw attention to this important complicated issue, and I certainly hope that my star power can bump this hearing all the way up to C-SPAN 1.
GUTHRIE: One congressman initially asked him to leave.
Representative JOHN CONYERS Jr. (Democrat, Michigan): You run your show, we run the committee. But what do you say to that , Stephen ?
GUTHRIE: But the testimony went on for several uncomfortable minutes, though not every member gave him undivided attention.
Mr. COLBERT: But this is America . I don't want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, then sliced by a Guatemalan and served by a Venezuelan in a spa where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian.
GUTHRIE: Asked about it later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saw no problem with the stunt.
Representative NANCY PELOSI: He's an American. ...comes before the committee, has a point of view. He can bring attention to important issues like immigration. I think it's great.
GUTHRIE: Republicans said Colbert mocked the process.
Representative SMITH: If you don't know they were illegal, they might well have been legal workers there, is that correct?
Mr. COLBERT: I don't know. I have no idea.
GUTHRIE: Privately, some Democrats worried the whole spectacle would fan the flames of voter disgust with Washington at a time when the electorate is already on edge.
Mr. COLBERT: Whatever the Spanish word for mono is.
GUTHRIE: On Thursday night, what should have been a staid candidate debate turned into fight night in Vegas . Audience members broke into a physical scuffle, trading punches while the Senate candidates Sharron Angle and Harry Reid were repeatedly booed and heckled. Just the latest sign of America the angry.
Unidentified Woman: Be back here at 5:00.
GUTHRIE: The president, even among supporters Wednesday night in New York , was repeatedly interrupted by hecklers.
President BARACK OBAMA: We listened to you. We heard your point.
GUTHRIE: And at a town hall this week he got something of a talking to.
Ms. VELMA HART: And quite frankly , I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration...
Pres. OBAMA: Right.
Ms. HART: ...defending the mantle of change that I voted for.
GUTHRIE: With unemployment not budging, Wall Street enjoying profits while Main Street struggles, voters are fed up, ready to take out their frustrations at the ballot box.
Professor CURTIS GANS (Professor, American University): Some people are angry, some people are scared because of the economic conditions, some people are disillusioned who had invested hope in President Obama . Some people are turned off in a way that they don't believe any party is going to make a difference.
GUTHRIE: Analysts say the only issue here is how much that voter anger and discontent drives the to the polls, whether they'll turn out or in disillusionment simply stay home. That could be the difference between some losses for Democrats or big losses for Democrats . Brian :
WILLIAMS: You look at just today, we've still got a ways to go yet before this election gets here. Savannah Guthrie , nice having you here in New York .