Model Congress excels at Columbia conference

Claire Goldberg, Staff Writer

The Model Congress team showcased debate skills and political knowledge at the Columbia Model Congress Conference last weekend, earning honorable mentions for members Owen Heidings (10), Malcolm Furman (10), and Co-President Adam Frommer (12). 

At the conference, all participants chose to debate in either the Senate or the House. Within those divisions, members participated in individual committees in which they proposed and debated bills on various political issues. 

All students who attended were experienced debaters, which helped the team excel in the conference, Frommer said.

The team also held weekly meetings prior to the conference to practice different debate techniques, Frommer said. In particular, the team practiced how to weigh arguments and approach reading other people’s bills. “We also practiced the theatrical element of a speech and the importance of acting your way through it to prevent your chair and other delegates in the committee from tuning out.” 

Heidings, who wrote a bill that argued for subsidizing nuclear energy, won an honorable mention in the Energy and Natural Resources Senate committee. “I did a chemistry project on nuclear energy earlier this year about the pros and cons of nuclear energy, so I was able to bolster my argument because I already knew a lot on the subject,” he said. Heiding’s bill passed with the narrow margin of six to four, he said. 

While Heidings argued for the usage of nuclear energy when proposing his own bill, he had argued against nuclear energy on another bill earlier on at the conference, he said. “I really liked getting to play devil’s advocate, because one minute I gave a con speech vehemently against [nuclear energy], and the next minute I was pushing for it,” he said. “It’s really good practice having to think about the other side to your opinions.”

Furman also won an honorable mention in his delegate, he said. Furman wrote and passed a bill on restricting airspace above private property. In particular, he focused on protecting property from drones. In addition to focusing on questions of regulating drone usage, the debate surrounding his bill centered around means of enforcing such regulation. 

After proposing a bill that eliminated all tariffs and quotas, member Will Bramwell (10) realized that he should have introduced a more moderate bill to the Finance committee, he said. “I’ve always been a believer in free trade and the ability of countries to cooperate with each other,” Bramwell said. “I realized, however, that it might have been too radical. I think the idea of completely reducing all regulation is slightly scary for people.”

To prepare for the debate, Bramwell created a Google Sheet with all of his arguments and potential counter-arguments. He then researched rebuttals for the counter-arguments. “I found it really useful because I was able to navigate straight to my rebuttals when someone brought up a counter-argument,” he said.

During the debate, however, Bramwell heard of a counter-argument about the potential of a “free trade shock,” where the complete deregulation of the market results in job loss and inflation. “It was a really great point and after the debate I’m willing to concede that a trade shock is possible,” he said. “I definitely need to do more research on that.” 

Frommer debated in the Energy and Commerce Committee, in which he passed a bill on Cap and Trade, which is a climate plan that works to limit carbon emissions. “I took Global Environmental History (GEH), which really helped me a lot in terms of how to frame arguments,” he said. “I think one of the factors that helped me do well was my ability to zoom out a little more and speak more philosophically about people’s responsibility to nature, which is also something I’ve learned from GEH.”

Instead of debating in a normal committee, Alexa Turteltaub (10) debated on the Supreme Court, where she and her partner acted as attorneys, she said. During the event, the court debated Sullivan v. New York Times, a 1964 Supreme Court case in which a segregationist police commissioner sued the New York Times for publishing a fund-raising advertisement for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The advertisement allegedly contained false information, so the officer sued the newspaper for libel. 

All members of the committee had to prepare both sides of the cases and give a ten-minute speech at the beginning of the session, Turteltaub said. “It was really interesting to hear the case in a modern context, where today we are also going through another social reckoning,” she said.

 Turteltaub’s favorite part of the conference was when the chair opened up the floor for more free discussion, she said. “When you get past the legalities of the case, we found that the case was really about why Sullivan brought the case to court: was it because he felt like those trivial errors were defaming him, or was he actually just a raging racist?”

Although the online-format prevented travel, which Heidings finds tedious, it also created unanticipated difficulties during the tournament, he said. “When I was giving my speech my WiFi cut up, so I had to reconnect and get my bearings right,” he said. However, the online format let him look online for facts to support his argument, which he cannot normally do during a conference, he said.

Ultimately, the conference went smoothly, Frommer said. “With such experienced debaters, this conference felt less stressful and more fun,” he said. “We did a good job debating and refining our skills.”