And on the second day, they read…
Day Two of Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives was highlighted with a reading of the 223-year-old Constitution — the document that formed the American government and guides it to this day.
It’s often a raucous scene on the House floor. Today, it was raucous in the visitors’ gallery, when a woman calling herself “Theresa” disrupted the recitation of the Constitution at the exact point in which a lawmaker read that the president must be a “natural born citizen.”
“Except Obama,” Theresa inserted as her own 28th Amendment to the Constitution and invoking Jesus. It may have been the most prominent performance so far by “birthers,” who claim Barack Obama has no right to be in office because they believe he was born in Africa and not Hawaii.
Republicans staged the reading of the 4,400-word Constitution — not counting the 27 amendments — in part as a gesture to Tea Party activists who helped them win big in the November elections, and in part to cue up Friday’s debate to repeal “Obamacare,” the healthcare reforms Democrats enacted last year.
UPDATE: Elizabeth Wydra, chief counsel at Constitutional Accountability Center, wrote at The Huffington Post that the Republican gesture was actually not the “Tea Party moment” they hoped for because all the original words weren’t read, but rather it involved what she considers an “edited” version with portions such as on slavery omitted.
Interesting. So we asked the new Speaker’s office. Spokesman Michael Steel (different spelling from RNC chairman) responded: “The entire Constitution was read. The portions in the original text related to slavery were eliminated by the 14th amendment, I believe. That was quite a number of years ago.”
A recitation of the Constitution is also intended to remind lawmakers of their solemn pledge to be faithful to the hallowed document. And it’s part of House Speaker John Boehner’s promise to make his chamber a more functional, civil place to do business, after years of partisan bickering.
“In this Congress, there will be clear constitutional authority required when members file bills,” Boehner told reporters.
But there already are signs that reading the Constitution will not do much to facilitate camaraderie or more effective governing.
“We were not sent here to use the Constitution as a political prop or a partisan weapon, but instead as the tool by which we govern,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler, a senior Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee, who went on to accuse Republicans of having trampled on the Constitution in the past.
As for providing House members with a moral compass, Sanford Levinson, a constitutional law and government professor at The University of Texas at Austin, in a telephone interview with Reuters, said: “It’s like saying I’ll read out ‘thou shalt not kill’ and some will say, ‘What part of that do you not understand and how can you support capital punishment?’” Others would read those same words and say “how can you support abortion?” Levinson said.
“We’re not going to get anywhere,” he said.
Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Boehner salutes assembled members of Congress on opening day of 112th Congress)