What started as an amendment about the Pledge of Allegiance devolved into a heated and prolonged debate Wednesday between members of the House Judiciary Committee during their first meeting of the new Congress.
The committee met to approve panel rules for the new Congress. But the jostling on a seemingly benign measure previews the partisan fireworks ahead on a committee tasked with broad jurisdiction that includes immigration, tech companies and federal law enforcement.
It started when Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz proposed a rules amendment that would give the chair, or their designee, the ability to lead the committee in the pledge at the start of each meeting.
But lawmakers quickly began poking and prodding each other over the amendment, delving into discussion of more than 30 minutes that touched on insurrection, Supreme Court precedent, socialism, the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and the “defund the police” slogan.
Rhode Island Democratic Rep. David Cicilline wanted the amendment changed to prevent anyone who supported an insurrection from being allowed to lead the pledge at the committee.
“To make sure that someone who led an insurrection against the United States doesn’t make a mockery of the Pledge of Allegiance and stand before this committee with their hand over their heart claiming to support the Constitution,” Cicilline said.
Gaetz, a conservative firebrand, countered that if Cicilline meant Republicans who voted to reject electoral votes from one state after the 2020 election, then Democrats had done that after previous presidential elections. “I’m concerned that you may be disqualifying too many of your own members,” he said.
“I’m not concerned about that at all. Then agree to the amendment,” Cicilline fired back, even offering to leave it up to Chairman Jim Jordan to determine who that would disqualify. “Let’s make this real.”
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said it’s ironic that members who disrespected the rule of law — such as not complying with a congressional subpoena from the now-disbanded House select panel on the Jan. 6 attack, which includes Jordan — are now insisting on saying the Pledge of Allegiance at committee meetings. And Johnson also mentioned that certain members of the committee voted against the certification of the 2020 presidential election, but he added that he supports the pledge.
At one point, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the committee’s ranking member, said the Pledge of Allegiance is already recited on the House floor.
Rep. Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, argued that most lawmakers are not in attendance for the floor pledge. “It’s a bit absurd to suggest we couldn’t take 30 seconds at the beginning of this important work to do what should be done by all Americans,” he said.
Later on, Mike Johnson said some lawmakers had supported the “defund the police” slogan in the past. That prompted Georgia Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath to say she took offense to the comments, arguing that Democrats have worked just as hard as Republicans to provide resources for law enforcement.
“I hope that you will gingerly, going forward, not try to just make those kinds of broad statements about my colleagues on this side of the aisle,” McBath said.
Some Republicans said reciting the Pledge of Allegiance was simply not a big ask.
“How can we waste time arguing about this? Why the heck can’t we just stand up and say we love our country and we love our flag?” said Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey Republican.
After all that, the members should get ready to put their hand over their heart.
The committee voted 39-0 to adopt the pledge amendment.