Skip to content

A tour of the Capitol Hill ‘Hall of No Shame’

This exclusive club includes Republicans and Democrats for all the wrong reasons

Former Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., along with Reps. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., on the House floor on Oct. 17, 2023.
Former Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., along with Reps. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., on the House floor on Oct. 17, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

During a televised hearing 70 years ago that brought down demagogic Wisconsin Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy, patrician Boston lawyer Joseph Welch asked with emotion dripping from his voice, “Have you no shame, senator?”

Back in the 1950s, responsible political leaders in both parties were assumed to have a sense of shame, embarrassment and the rudiments of honor. But these days, when even the most discredited legislators can raise campaign cash by fomenting on cable TV, Congress and the rest of American politics deserves what might be dubbed their own “Hall of No Shame.”

Let’s take a quick look at some contemporary exhibits.

Over there is a bust honoring an obscure busted former Republican House legislator named George Santos.

Later this week, plans are underway to erect an exhibit honoring the blithering incompetence of the House Republicans under the quavering leadership of Speaker Mike Johnson. Not only have House Republicans, so far, been unable to finish all of their own fiscal 2024 appropriations bills, but they are hurtling toward a partial government shutdown at the end of the week.

What is telling is that no Republican leaders seem embarrassed that the House GOP is unable to perform the basic function of a legislative body — funding the government. Instead, members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus are happy to spend their time on Fox News making outrageous demands for spending cuts opposed by both Senate Republicans and Democrats, not to mention the Biden White House.

It wouldn’t be a bipartisan “Hall of No Shame” without an alcove honoring indicted New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez. If Menendez had any sense of shame, he would have resigned from the Senate last fall when federal prosecutors indicted him on charges that he allegedly received hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold bars and cash as bribes from the Egyptian government.

Had a chagrined Menendez announced he would be working full time as a private citizen on his criminal defense, it wouldn’t have cost his party a Senate seat, since New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is a Democrat.

Of course, Murphy, who has an idiosyncratic definition of merit appointments, probably would have named his wife, Tammy, as the fill-in senator. The New Jersey governor has already lined up most of the state’s Democratic county chairs behind his wife in the June Senate primary against Rep. Andy Kim and, of course, Menendez, who is operating under the delusion that he is a viable candidate for reelection.

Every “Hall of No Shame” needs safety equipment. Needless to say, our fire alarm will be named in honor of New York Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who pulled one last fall in the Cannon House Office Building. Bowman, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, was either trying to delay a tight House vote or, as he claims, made a hard-to-explain error in trying to open a locked door.

We now come to the entertainment area, where the movie “Beetlejuice” will be playing on a nonstop loop to commemorate Rep. Lauren Boebert’s own theatrical performance.

Last September, the Colorado Republican and a companion were booted out of a Denver performance of the musical version of the show for vaping and causing a disruption. At the time, an unrepentant Boebert claimed on social media, “I plead guilty to laughing and singing too loud!” Actually, as security camera footage soon made clear, Boebert’s activity in her seat was as much lewd as loud.

Rather than apologizing or displaying a dollop of shame, Boebert arrogantly responded by moving from her Republican-leaning district to the most conservative district in the state. But after acting out both by screaming on the House floor and by offering her own floor show at “Beetlejuice,” Boebert may be hard-pressed to prevail in a multicandidate GOP primary.

The New Yorker recently profiled Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who led the Republican insurrection that brought down Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The hyper-ambitious Gaetz deserves a small plaque in our “Hall of No Shame” for his alleged involvement with an underage woman, an entanglement that is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee.

Dexter Filkins, who wrote the New Yorker article, detailed Gaetz’s “free-wheeling private life” and noted that he “appeared to have the impulse control of a teenage boy.” Likening the fire-breathing congressman to his hero, Donald Trump, Filkins added, “There is no guarantee that even a damning verdict will have much effect on Gaetz.”

Our final stop on our “Hall of No Shame” tour is an area that is colloquially called “Russia House.”

Part of the installation features TV footage of South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham saying in late 2022, as Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskyy addressed a joint of session of Congress, “I’m all in, whatever they need, as long as they need it.” That definitive statement would be paired with Graham’s recent vote against aid to Ukraine.

Nothing better illustrates the lack of embarrassment among House Republicans than the recent indictment of Alexander Smirnov — an FBI informant who had allegedly long peddled false information that the president had received a $5 million payoff to aid the business dealings of his son, Hunter Biden. The Justice Department now portrays Smirnov – the key figure in the GOP’s efforts to impeach the president — as a serial liar, who may have been passing on Russian misinformation.

A special television has been installed in the “Russia House” exhibit. The set is primed to come alive when prominent Republicans come forward to admit that they were gulled by Smirnov. Until that magical day, the TV screen will remain blank as a living symbol of the blank consciences of GOP conspiracy theorists.

So the next time a politician is asked, “Have you no shame?” the only appropriate answer is, “Of course I don’t, I’m in Congress.”

Walter Shapiro is a staff writer for The New Republic and a lecturer in political science at Yale. He is a veteran of USA Today, Time, Newsweek and The Washington Post.

Recent Stories

Senate dispenses with Mayorkas impeachment without a trial

Steve Garvey: Not the next Jim Bunning

Capitol Lens | Former Sen. Bob Graham, 1936–2024

Foreign aid supplemental unveiled in House; Biden supports

‘Unholy alliance’: Congress needs to act as global crises threaten West

Figures, Dobson win runoffs in redrawn Alabama district