Capitol Hill Buzz: Twitter helps save Congress from itself

AP News
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Posted: Jun 04, 2015 4:30 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Twitter is apparently helping members of Congress protect themselves from ... themselves.

Twitter has killed a website dedicated to publishing the deleted tweets of politicians, including members of Congress, governors and candidates for president, the Sunlight Foundation announced Thursday.

Twitter said the website violated its terms of service.

The website is called Politwoops, and the Sunlight Foundation has run it since 2012. Over that time, the website has documented hundreds of deleted tweets, some embarrassing, others just poorly worded.

There was the tweet by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., questioning whether President Barack Obama was born in the U.S. That was deleted after 55 minutes, according to Politwoops. And one by Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, featuring a photo of a scantily clad woman wearing leather straps and what appears to be a dog collar. It was deleted after 17 minutes.

In both cases, staffers took the blame.

Last year, six politicians deleted tweets welcoming the return of Taliban POW Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl after questions were raised about whether the Army soldier was a deserter.

"Politwoops was created because public communications from public officials should be available to anyone who wants to see them," Christopher Gates, president of the Sunlight Foundation, wrote in a blog. "The site isn't just about blunders, but rather revealing a more intimate perspective on our politicians and how they communicate with their constituents.

Gates said access to deleted tweets was cut off nearly three weeks ago, but his office just received an explanation from Twitter on Wednesday. Old deleted tweets are still available on the website.

In a statement, Twitter said it supports the Sunlight Foundation's "mission of increasing transparency in politics and using civic tech and open data to hold government accountable to constituents, but preserving deleted Tweets violates our developer agreement."

"Honoring the expectation of user privacy for all accounts is a priority for us, whether the user is anonymous or a member of Congress," the statement said.

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The lovefest continued Thursday between Sen. Ted Cruz and the Obama administration over its health care overhaul, this time playing out at a congressional hearing that featured an empty witness table.

Cruz, R-Texas, is a GOP presidential candidate with a ready-made podium — he chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee's oversight subcommittee. The hearing his panel scheduled for Thursday focused on the health care law's subsidies to many lower-earning people, which happen to be the focus of a Supreme Court case on which a decision is expected this month.

Cruz — who helped spark a 2013 government shutdown over demands that President Barack Obama's health care law be repealed — summoned three Treasury Department officials to testify Thursday. But as they'd signaled in advance, they did not show up.

Cruz, who has made opposition to the health care overhaul a touchstone of his congressional career, was not amused. And the made-for-TV sound bites started.

The empty table, he told the crowded hearing room, was "a symbol of how little regard the Obama administration has for the American people." He called the witnesses' absence "the height of arrogance," and wondered aloud whether the administration's use of the subsidies — some of which conservatives contend are illegal — was "a deliberate effort to ignore the law, driven by political and partisan objectives."

Democrats defended the administration's absence, saying it was unreasonable to expect the administration to appear before Congress just weeks before the Supreme Court decides if the subsidies are legal.

"It is my hope we'll get past this political theater," said Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del.

"I do not mean to suggest that the empty table was used as a prop," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., in effect suggesting it anyway.

In a written statement, the Treasury Department said it has "worked cooperatively with Congress."

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Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap

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Online: Politwoops: http://politwoops.sunlightfoundation.com/