During Tuesday’s House Committee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government hearing, tensions flared as Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) clashed with Norman Eisen, a seasoned figure from the Obama administration. The focal point of contention was the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) allocation of technology grants, purportedly aimed at combating mis- and disinformation, a move Gaetz vehemently opposed.
With his characteristic fervor, Gaetz confronted Eisen regarding the NSF’s decision to fund projects that, in Gaetz’s view, could potentially target individuals based on their cultural and constitutional beliefs. The hearing escalated dramatically when Gaetz pointed to a specific grant awarded to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), alleging that it categorized certain Americans as more susceptible to misinformation due to their reliance on personal convictions over the expertise of the “expert class.”
“Mr. Eisen, if you’re done texting, I’d like to ask you: do you find the NSF’s actions acceptable?” Gaetz began. “Is that essentially the conclusion you’re drawing? […] Essentially, this Track F program […] granted $750,000 to 12 initial projects,” Gaetz pressed.
“I do have a perspective, Mr. Gaetz. As you know, there are two texts that hold deep significance for me. One is our Torah, our Bible, which guides my life… The other text of importance to me is the Constitution,” Eisen responded, attempting to establish common ground.
However, Gaetz was relentless, pointing out the irony in the NSF’s approach: “Okay, let me stop you there Mr. Eisen because here’s the problem. While you indicate that the Torah and the Constitution are your sacred texts, if Americans indicate online that the Bible and the Constitution are sacred to them, the very grants that are being issued by the NSF would deem those people in a separate and diminished class.”
Eisen, an American attorney, author, and former diplomat, is best known for his role as the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic from 2011 to 2014 during the Obama administration. Eisen also served as Special Counsel and Special Assistant to President Barack Obama, where he worked on ethics and government reform issues.
After his government service, he has been involved in advocacy and legal work, particularly focusing on issues of democracy, governance, and anti-corruption. Eisen has been a frequent commentator on legal and ethical issues in the media and has written extensively on these topics. He is also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C., where he focuses on governance studies.
The debate soon escalated to the implications of using AI for censorship, with Gaetz drawing parallels to dystopian fiction. “Have you seen the movie Minority Report, Tom Cruise? Doesn’t this kind of feel like that? That you’re trying to do that, that it’s coming to life before our very eyes,” Gaetz argued.
Eisen’s attempts to provide context were often cut short by Gaetz’s sharp interjections.
Gaetz’s assertion that “it’s not that military families and rural Americans and people who love the Bible and Constitution are dumber or uniquely susceptible to anything. It’s just they don’t think like how the expert class and the National Science Foundation wants them to think,” captured the essence of the controversy.