WASHINGTON — A routine House committee meeting erupted into a heated, nearly hourlong debate Wednesday over the Pledge of Allegiance, with one Democratic lawmaker saying that "insurrectionists" who backed former President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election should be banned from leading it.
The fiery back-and-forth took place in a House Judiciary Committee meeting where members set rules for the current Congress. It began after Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., offered an amendment that would give the committee the opportunity to begin each of its meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance. He said the rule would give members “the ability to invite inspirational constituents” to be able to share and lead in the pledge.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the committee's ranking member, immediately objected, arguing that House members already recite the pledge on the floor every day. "I don’t know why we should pledge allegiance twice in the same day to show how patriotic we are," he said.
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., noted that many Republicans on the committee voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election on Jan. 6, 2021. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., then said he was introducing an amendment to Gaetz's amendment that clarified that the pledge cannot be led by anyone who has supported an insurrection against the United States in any way.
"This pledge is an affirmation of your defense of democracy and the Constitution," Cicilline. "It’s hard to take that claim seriously if in fact, an individual in any way supported an insurrection against the government."
Gaetz began sparring with Cicilline, saying that he was concerned the Democrat's proposal would make many Democrats on the panel ineligible to lead the pledge, too, because of previous elections when some in their party objected to electors.
"I’m concerned that you may be disqualifying too many of your own members," Gaetz said, as the two of them yelled over each other.
"I’m talking about elected officials who swear an oath to the Constitution of the United States, who in any way participated, supported, facilitated, encouraged the insurrection against the United States," Cicilline said. "That’s not too hard a standard."
Other members joined the debate, with many Republicans defending Gaetz's amendment and criticizing Cicilline's effort.
"I know it’s a real backbreaker," Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J., sarcastically joked about how long it takes to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. "We can [go] that little extra mile, stand up, put our hand on our chest, say what we believe, and reaffirm this America that we love. Come on. This can't be real. I can't believe we're having this debate."
Freshman Rep. Wesley Hunt, R-Texas, said he recited the pledge in elementary school and argued that reciting it during committee meetings is necessary because it represents the deaths of thousands of Americans. "The least we can do is to pay homage," he said, to Americans who have made that sacrifice for the nation. "Democrat or Republican, we are in this together. That flag is the one thing that unites us."
Ultimately, Cicilline's amendment was defeated in a 24-13 vote in the GOP-led committee.
Gaetz's amendment, on the other hand, passed unanimously, 39-0.