House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is still short on the Republican support he’ll need to succeed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the next Congress. The GOP leader is also still looking for ways to impress members of his conference, especially on the far right.
To that end, McCarthy last week pitched an idea via Facebook: “Next year, Republicans will start every day of Congress with prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. No exceptions.” It wasn’t long, of course, before annoying people like me reminded the congressman that Congress already starts every day with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance — it’s literally a written rule of the U.S. House of Representatives, as it’s been for many years — and his vow was entirely redundant.
Over the holiday weekend, McCarthy tried again with a new pitch by way of Twitter:
“On the very first day of the new Republican-led Congress, we will read every single word of the Constitution aloud from the floor of the House — something that hasn’t been done in years.”
If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s not your imagination. As readers with long memories might recall, shortly after the 2010 midterms, the newly elected GOP majority leadership arranged for the entire Constitution to be read out loud. Two years later, Republicans did it again.
There wasn’t any harm in the stunt, of course, but there wasn’t any point, either. It seemed to be the Republicans’ way of trying to tell the political world that they are the ones who truly love the Constitution.
The practice soon after fell out of favor, even under GOP majorities, in part because no one seemed to find any value in that symbolic gesture, and in part because the process became more contentious than expected. As The Washington Post reported in 2011, “They skipped several passages that no longer apply, including those that condoned slavery, angering some Democrats. On a day designed to celebrate the Founding Fathers’ growing role in the nation’s political discourse, Democrats accused Republicans of distorting history and the men who wrote it.”
As of now, there’s no confirmation on whether McCarthy’s plan to “read every single word of the Constitution aloud from the floor of the House” will include, for example, the text of the three-fifths compromise.
What’s more, if Republicans intend to read the document, it might be a good idea to have a related conversation about whether they intend to follow it. I’m especially interested in GOP threats related to the nation’s debt limit.
“The validity of the public debt of the United States,” the Constitution’s 14th Amendment reads, “shall not be questioned.”
When the 14th Amendment was ratified, then-Sen. Benjamin Wade, an Ohio Republican, argued, “Every man who has property in the public funds will feel safer when he sees that the national debt is withdrawn from the power of a Congress to repudiate it and placed under the guardianship of the Constitution than he would feel if it were left at loose ends and subject to the varying majorities which may arise in Congress.”
Given Republicans’ plans to hold the debt ceiling hostage next year, I wonder which member might be tasked with reading the 14th Amendment to his or her Republican colleagues.