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Flag fracas: Republicans ‘infuriated’ by show of support for Ukraine  

Foreign flag-waving touches a nerve in the House

The Capitol is seen through American and Ukrainian flags on Tuesday.
The Capitol is seen through American and Ukrainian flags on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Republicans were split roughly down the middle on Saturday’s vote to provide Ukraine with $60.8 billion in aid, but in the aftermath, Speaker Mike Johnson tried to project unity on at least one aspect of the ordeal.

“I just want to say simply what I think most people around the country understand and agree,” Johnson said after the vote. “We should only wave one flag on the House floor. And I think we know which flag that is.”

A tide of blue and yellow washed over the House during the vote, as dozens of Democrats held up mini Ukrainian flags. Others tucked them in their breast pockets, while New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. draped a larger version over his shoulders like a cape.

It was a striking scene, and one that drew immediate rebukes from Republicans. Banging the gavel repeatedly as he called for order, presiding Rep. Marc Molinaro of New York reminded his colleagues to “observe proper decorum,” adding that “flag-waving on the floor is not appropriate.” Florida Rep. Anna Paulina Luna was even blunter: “Put those damn flags away.”

The outrage has sparked debates about decorum, prompted eye rolls from some Democrats and given new meaning to the concept of political flag-waving.

Florida Republican Rep. Kat Cammack vowed to draft legislation that would ban the display of foreign flags on the House floor. That measure could be introduced as early as this week, according to a spokesperson, who did not provide details on the exact form it would take.

“Watching American representatives pass out & wave Ukrainian flags in the United States House of Representatives chamber infuriated me,” Cammack wrote on the social media platform X. 

“If there is one room in our country that should only have the American flag present, it is this room,” continued Cammack, who voted against the aid for Ukraine.

House rules state that members may not engage in disorderly or disruptive conduct. While the rules bar things like smoking or wearing nonreligious headdresses or hats, waving a mini flag is not explicitly mentioned.

Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie seized on the moment to attack Johnson, posting a shaky video to his social media showing the Democratic side of the chamber erupting. 

“This is the U.S. House of Representatives under the direction of Speaker Mike Johnson. Democrats are celebrating his total capitulation with no victory for securing our border,” wrote Massie, who has been sharply critical of his fellow Republican and supports a potential effort to oust him from the speakership led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.

Massie kept his criticism alive on Tuesday afternoon, saying he received a call from the House sergeant-at-arms threatening a $500 fine if he didn’t remove the clip. “Mike Johnson really wants to memory hole this betrayal of America,” he wrote.

If members violate House rules by taking photos or videos on the floor, they can in theory be fined $500 for a first offense and $2,500 for a subsequent offense. Massie declined to provide further comment, but Johnson quickly posted a response on social media: “Upon viewing Rep. Massie’s tweet, our team reached out to the Sergeant at Arms. I do not agree with this assessment and there will be no fine imposed on Rep. Massie.”

According to some House Democrats, all the Republican outrage over the flag-waving episode is just sour grapes.

“There’s much ado about nothing. There are so many other things we should worry about,” Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley, a co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus, said in an interview. “Some of them are just upset because this happened and because the vote went the way it did.”

“To all the [R]epublicans who just booed me and my colleagues on the House floor for Ukraine flags here’s my answer — screw [Vladimir P]utin and Slava Ukraini!” Pascrell wrote, more pointedly, in a post on X.

Pascrell also posted a picture of rioters brandishing a Confederate flag inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, suggesting lawmakers should reserve their outrage for displays like those.

After Russian forces invaded Ukraine in 2022, some House members wore blue and yellow to the State of the Union or attached a Ukrainian pin to their lapels. Those fashion statements were meant to signal their support for sending military aid to the war-torn country, as the issue became increasingly contentious. 

Quigley said he can remember other times that members have displayed flags to show their support for foreign nations or leaders. 

“People have had little flags sometimes when foreign heads of state come in. It’s just not that big a deal,” Quigley said.

In one instance, when Pope Francis came to Washington to address a joint meeting of Congress, members could be seen displaying the yellow and white flag of Vatican City.

Other Democrats pointed out that symbols of foreign nations, especially American allies, can be seen throughout the Capitol. Democratic Rep. Seth Magaziner of Rhode Island, who helped distribute the Ukrainian flags on the floor over the weekend, cited the portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette that hangs in the House chamber. There’s a bust of Winston Churchill in the building, and many members, including Cammack, have hung the Israeli flag outside their House offices since the war with Hamas broke out last year, Magaziner noted.

“I wish the small but vocal group of House Republicans who chose to vote with Putin were as outraged by the Russian army targeting innocent civilians, schools and hospitals as they are about members of Congress holding the flags of our nation’s ally,” Magaziner said in a written statement.

A little more than half of Republicans voting on Saturday opposed the Ukraine aid bill, while Democrats unanimously supported it. The final tally was 311-112, plus one “present” vote. 

Herb Jackson, Daniel Hillburn and Paul V. Fontelo contributed to this report.

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