Fact Check

Were Democrats Absent from a U.S. Senate Hearing on Border Security?

A photograph shows a bunch of empty Senate chairs during the hearing.

Published May 2, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: (L-R) Rodolfo Karisch, Rio Grande Valley sector chief patrol agent for the U.S. Border Patrol; Randy Howe, executive director for operations in U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Field Operations; Timothy Tubbs, deputy special agent in charge - Laredo, Texas, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Jonathan White, deputy director for children's programs in the Office of Emergency Management and Medical Operations in the Office of Assistant Homeland Security Secretary for Preparedness and Response, and Greg Cherundolo, acting chief of operations of the Drug Enforcement Agency are sworn in during a U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on migration on the Southern U.S Border on April 9, 2019 in Washington, DC. During the hearing, lawmakers questioned witnesses about child mentions, minor reunification, and illegal drug seizures on the Southern Border. (Photo by Alex Edelman/Getty Images) (Getty Images)
Image Via Getty Images
Not a single Democrat was present during a U.S. Senate hearing on border security in April 2019.

In mid-April 2019, an image showing several empty seats on a panel during a U.S. Senate committee hearing on border security started to circulate on social media. While this image was real, a number of social media accounts attempted to use it as partisan fodder and claimed that it showed "not one democrat" bothered to attend this hearing:

This is a genuine still photograph (minus the red circles) from a 9 April 2019 U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on Capitol Hill concerning border security. However, it documents a moment in which nearly all lawmakers (not just Democrats) were absent due to a vote on an unrelated matter that needed to be cast in another location. In fact, when Fox News correspondent Griff Jenkins posted a similar image of these empty chairs, he noted that "not a single senator" had stayed to listen to border-patrol officials make their closing statements to Chairman Ron Johnson:

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) is the ranking member of the committee. The remainder of the committee consists of seven republicans and five democrats.

While many members of this committee were absent during the moment captured in the viral still image, they were present at other parts of the hearing. Here's an image of Peters, for instance, as he made his opening remarks:

Attending and asking questions at a hearing is one of the many responsibilities senators have on Capitol Hill. As these hearings are often several hours long, they can overlap with other responsibilities, such as casting a vote. That appears to be the main reason why lawmakers were absent during the final minutes of the hearing.

Near the start of the hearing, Johnson thanked the committee members for their attendance and said that he would hold off on asking his own questions until the end, as some members would have to leave before the conclusion of the hearing to vote on an unrelated matter.

Johnson said: "I really appreciate the attendance here by members, so I'll defer my questioning to the end. We do have a vote we have to deal with 11 o'clock. It's my intention to keep the hearing going. Hopefully we get some cooperation from committee members."

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) also noted that he would have to leave the hearing due to this this conflicting vote, saying: "I may have to leave before all of your answers are given because of a vote that's underway that will be over in just a few minutes."

The full hearing, which features both Republicans and Democrats lawmakers asking questions of border patrol officials, can be seen below:


U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.   "U.S. Southern Border Frontline Perspectives Spotlighted at Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Hearing Tuesday."     9 April 2019.

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.