An organizational meeting of the House Judiciary Committee turned into a bitter debate over a proposed amendment to committee rules that would require the recitation of the pledge of allegiance at the beginning of committee meetings, allowing members to bring in constituents to lead it if they wish.
The amendment, put forth by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., was met with a challenge and another amendment by Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., who said anyone who supported an insurrection against the United States should be barred from leading the pledge.
“I think if we adopt this amendment, then we will be truthful in representing that stating this pledge is an affirmation of your defense of democracy and the Constitution. It’s hard to take that claim seriously piaf in fact an individual who in any way supported an insurrection against the government of the United States is allowed to lead the pledge,” Cicilline said, asking if Gaetz would support his amendment.
Gaetz countered by saying that if Cicilline’s definition of “insurrection” is someone who objected to electors, “then there would be many Democrats on the committee that wouldn’t be eligible to lead the pledge,” noting that the last Republican to be sworn in as president without objection to electors was President George H.W. Bush.
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Cicilline insisted that this was not how he defined an insurrection, and said he would allow the committee chair to determine what constitutes supporting an insurrection.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Issa, noted that insurrection is a crime, and suggested expanding Cicilline’s amendment to cover all convicted felons. Cicilline declined.
“I’m not talking about convicted felons, I’m talking about elected officials who swear an oath to the Constitution of the United States who in any way participated, supported, facilitated, encouraged the insurrection against the government of the United States,” Cicilline said, adding that “that’s not too hard a standard.”
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., later noted that because insurrection is a crime, no one guilty of it can serve in the House anyway. He accused Cicilline of, rather than leaving such matters to the courts, wanting to be “judge, jury, and executioner.”
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Cicilline then admitted that no one on the committee has been found guilty of insurrection, and noted that the amendment allows for non-members to come in to lead the pledge.
Several Republicans were dismayed that the matter was being debated at all.
“I’m almost speechless,” said Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J. The former Democrat who switched parties in 2019 noted that members can take 60 to 90 seconds of their time to stand up and affirm their devotion to the country.
“Come on, this can’t be real. I can’t believe we’re having this debate.”
“How can we waste time arguing about this?” he added later on. “Why the heck can’t we just stand up and say we love our country and we love our flag? And if we do this more than once a day is that okay? I think it’s okay.”
Rep. Deborah Ross, D-N.C., noted that there is Supreme Court precedent dealing with public schools that says officials cannot force citizens to say the pledge. Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, noted that no one would be forced to say anything under the amendment.
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, blasted Democrats for their opposition to basic principles, citing not just the pledge but a recent proposal in the House Rules Committee to condemn socialism.
“And that is the state of your Democratic Party today,” Roy said.
Rep. Wesley Hunt, R-Texas, a graduate of West Point, noted that saying the pledge acknowledges those who gave their lives for the country.
“The least we can do is to pay homage to the sacrifice of those that have come before us and say, you know what? Democrat or Republican, we are in this together, that flag is the one thing that unites us, let’s just take 30 seconds to put all of our differences aside and say we can agree that this country is wonderful, this country has done outstanding things, and that brave men and women were willing to die for it, and that’s what sets us apart from every other country in the entire world,” Hunt said.
Ranking Member Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., objected to the amendment, calling it unnecessary because members already say the pledge on the House floor. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., countered by saying that many members, including Nadler, are typically not present on the floor for the pledge.
Cicilline’s amendment was voted down. Ultimately, Gaetz’s amendment calling for the pledge to be said was approved without opposition, with a vote of 39-0.
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