House G.O.P. Leads Constitution Read-Aloud, Seeking an Edge on Patriotism
A 43-minute recitation of the document fulfilled a promise Republicans made last year, and followed several acts of performative patriotism since they assumed control of the House.
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By Luke Broadwater
WASHINGTON — Speaker Kevin McCarthy vowed during his party’s campaign to win control of the House that things would be different when Republicans took over, with new policies on the agenda, new people in charge and “something that hasn’t been done in years”: a new ritual of reading every single word of the Constitution aloud from the floor on Day 1.
That did not happen. On Day 1, Mr. McCarthy was embarking on an epic negotiation to win over right-wing holdouts in what would become a grueling, 15-ballot election to become speaker, preparing a broad set of concessions he would ultimately make to win the post. And he has been slow to get started on the ambitious policy agenda Republicans have laid out.
But on Tuesday, 35 days after the dawn of their majority and hours before President Biden was set to give his State of the Union address in the chamber, Republicans stood one by one for a 43-minute recitation of the document. It was the latest in a string of symbolic actions the party has taken — many of them aimed at signaling patriotism and a devotion to the nation’s founding principles — to show that the House is under new management.
As conspicuous shows of patriotism go, it was fairly dry stuff. Mr. McCarthy kicked off the proceedings with little fanfare.
“Um, I will start,” he said, before launching into the “we the people” preamble.
Some of the readings were halting. Many were monotone — though Representative Harriet M. Hageman of Wyoming, who unseated Representative Liz Cheney in a bitter primary last year, punctuated her reading, which included the Second Amendment, with energetic enunciation.
But the delivery was hardly the point. For Republicans, it was the latest in a series of acts of public patriotism, ranging from the sincere to the performative, that they have undertaken since assuming the majority. The move was a way of signaling a culture change in the House — and of baiting Democrats into fights over the country’s values while implicitly suggesting that they are less committed to them than the G.O.P. is.
In the Judiciary Committee last week, Republicans put in place a new requirement to say the Pledge of Allegiance before each meeting. And Mr. McCarthy has moved quickly to overhaul other policies in the chamber, including ending proxy voting — a pandemic-era practice instituted by Democrats that he argued was unconstitutional — and removing magnetometers intended to bar lawmakers from bringing guns onto the House floor, which Republicans said were an infringement on the Second Amendment guarantee of the right to bear arms.
Understand the Events on Jan. 6
Still, for Democrats, many of whom argue that the Republicans have grown increasingly extremist and sat by idly or encouraged former President Donald J. Trump’s assault on the Constitution, the reading on Tuesday was all a bit too much. They were especially outraged at the display, coming not long after G.O.P. lawmakers refused to condemn Mr. Trump’s call in December for the “termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution” over his 2020 election loss.
“Unfortunately, McCarthy steadfastly refuses to repudiate Donald Trump’s call for the ‘termination’ of the Constitution,” Representative Donald S. Beyer Jr., Democrat of Virginia, wrote on Twitter.
Mr. McCarthy began the effort weeks after the midterm elections, with a post on Facebook — which has since been taken down — promising that Republicans would “start every day of Congress with prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. No exceptions.” That has taken place at the start of every day in session for generations in the House, where it is written into the rules.
In politics, there is often a contest to see who can come across as more patriotic. Mr. Trump was known to hug and kiss an American flag onstage at campaign and official events. President Ronald Reagan accepted a giant 210-by-411-foot American flag on the South Lawn of the White House. Countless politicians, including Mr. Biden, use American flags as backdrops for news conferences.
So far in the 118th Congress, the displays have often taken the form of trolling, some bordering on the absurd.
In recent days, Republicans around the Capitol have begun wearing assault-rifle-style pins, passed out by Representative Andrew Clyde, Republican of Georgia, as a sign, they say, of their commitment to the Second Amendment.
“Apparently I’ve been triggering some of my Democrat colleagues,” Mr. Clyde said in a tweet taking credit for the firearm accessory.
Last week, the first meeting of the Judiciary Committee devolved into an almost farcical display of patriotic one-upmanship featuring not one but two recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance after Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, proposed instituting a new requirement that the panel say the pledge before each session.
“We pledge allegiance every day on the floor,” grumbled Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York. “I don’t know why we should pledge allegiance twice in the same day — to show how patriotic we are?”
Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, was more pointed, suggesting that Republicans including Mr. Gaetz who backed Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election had no right to engage in patriotic displays in Congress. He tried to add a clause to Mr. Gaetz’s proposal that would bar insurrectionists from leading the Pledge of Allegiance, saying the addition was necessary “to make sure someone who led an insurrection against the United States doesn’t make a mockery of this committee.”
Republicans who control the committee batted down Mr. Cicilline’s effort, but Mr. Gaetz’s passed, 39 to 0, with Democrats in support to avoid losing the patriotism contest. On Twitter, Mr. Gaetz asked, “Why does patriotism make Democrats so heated?”
The pledge was ultimately said, and minutes later, after the committee shifted from an organizing meeting to a hearing on border security, Mr. Cicilline noted that, under the new Republican rule, it was time to say it again. He interrupted Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and the committee’s chairman, who was giving his opening statement.
“Are we not going to begin the hearing with the Pledge of Allegiance?” Mr. Cicilline said.
“We already had it,” Mr. Jordan replied.
“No, that was the organizing meeting,” Mr. Cicilline said.
Mr. Jordan began to object, but then relented.
“If the gentleman is insisting on doing that, I would welcome Mr. Cicilline to lead the Judiciary Committee in the Pledge of Allegiance,” Mr. Jordan said.
“Let’s do it,” Mr. Gaetz said.
All the lawmakers put their hands on their hearts and once again pledged allegiance to the flag, some of them for a possible third time that day.
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