Politics

Representatives read constitution aloud on House floor

Jeff Winkler Contributor

Apart from a somewhat rough start and a minor disruption by a “birther” who yelled from the public gallery, the reading of the Constitution on the House floor by U.S. Representatives on the second day of Congress went fairly smoothly.

The ceremonial occasion led by Republicans was the first of its kind on the House floor with members taking turns to read passages from the Constitution. But true to form, partisan provocations kept the reading from beginning smoothly.

Virginia Republican Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, who spearheaded the reading, had already informed colleagues that the Constitution wouldn’t exactly be read in its entirety. As Chris Moody wrote yesterday in The Daily Caller:

House members will read an “amended version” that only includes the sections and amendments that were not changed at a later date. The decision in part will allow members to avoid reading less pleasant sections, like the clause in Article 1, Section 2, which counted black slaves as three-fifths of a person.
The exclusion of some parts of the Constitution led a confused Democratic Washington Rep. Rick Larson to ask for clarification from Goodlatte. The back-and-forth of this “inquiry” lasted about 10 minutes. Following Larson, Democratic Illinois Rep. Jesse L. Jackson made the argument that the inclusion of more uncomfortable aspects of the Constitution were “no less serious, no less important” as they reflected the struggle and progress the country has made since it was founded.

Goodlatte, however, stood his ground. The  less-than-half-full House floor didn’t argue after that.

Like the Constitution itself, the reading started strong before quietly fading into what some modern interpreters seem to consider forgetful old drivel. Speaker of the House and giant gavel-handler, Ohio Rep. John Boehner, kicked things off with the Preamble with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi literally tripping her way through Article 1, Section 1, afterward. Whipping it up next was House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.

Most of the House leaders left after paying their dues to the founding document, with a few patient members remaining as the reading continued into the afternoon. Democratic Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut kept himself occupied with continuous color commentary via his Twitter account:

@jahimes Jim Himes Anthony Weiner gets through his reading of the Constitution without the Republicans asking that his words be taken down!

@jahimes Joe Wilson (!) reads section on sending passed bills to the President. Irony….

@jahimes Jim Himes First interruption of the reading from the Gallery. By a birther, screaming about Obama. Unintended consequences….

@jahimes Jim Himes Fourteenth Amendment read with no comment from the Gallery.

Goodlatte said he organized the order of the reading on a “first-come-first serve basis” but “might recognize Representatives out of order for the sake of bipartisanship.”

Finally, after nearly an hour and a half of bipartisanship in a room less crowded than when the reading began, reading time was over, just in time for lunch.

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