WASHINGTON — A freshman Republican lawmaker received bipartisan condemnation after he allegedly yelled at a group of high- school-age Senate pages for “defiling” the Capitol on Wednesday. New details shared with NBC News paint an even more disturbing picture of what took place that night.
Rep. Derrick Van Orden, R-Wis., told the teenagers to “get the f--- out” of the rotunda, according to one source who witnessed the interaction and spoke on condition of anonymity. The source described Van Orden's demeanor as “physically aggressive” toward the pages.
The lawmaker was “screaming inches from the pages’ faces” and “shooed” at them with his hands several times, said the source, who described previously unreported details of Van Orden’s behavior.
The summer pages are part of a prestigious Senate tradition that dates back to 1829, and were enjoying their last week on the job. After completing a long shift, a group of them decided to take advantage of a typically empty rotunda at that time of night to take in the Capitol sights.
Van Orden approached the group. He had been hosting a beer and cheese event with constituents as he often does, a spokesperson said, and a photo posted to Twitter by a reporter for Punchbowl News showed empty alcohol bottles and trash in his office.
The pages were lying on the rotunda floor and taking photos of the exquisite dome 470 feet above them, a Senate page tradition, according to former pages, when Van Orden, who was leading a large tour group, approached them.
He called the pages “jackasses” and “pieces of s---,” according to a transcript written issued by a page minutes after the incident and first reported by The Hill.
“Wake the f--- up you little s---s. What the f--- are you all doing? Get the f--- out of here. You are defiling the place,” the former Navy Seal shouted at the group.
The source told NBC News that Van Orden, 53, also said, “I don’t give a f---who you are. I’m a congressman. My name is Derrick Van Orden, and I represent the 3rd District of Wisconsin,” and he called the group “pieces of s---” multiple times.
The pages, who were 16 and 17 years old, were “visibly shaken,” according to the source.
Reached for comment regarding the source's allegations, Van Orden's office shared a statement that it gave to some reporters previously but did not dispute the account.
“The Capitol Rotunda served as a field hospital where countless Union soldiers died fighting to free men in the Civil War. I have long said our nation’s Capitol is a symbol of the sacrifice our servicemen and women have made for this country and should never be treated like a frat house common room. Threatening a congressman with bad press to excuse poor behavior is a reminder of everything that’s wrong with Washington," the statement read.
The U.S. Senate Page Program offers high school students from all 50 states the opportunity to work on the Senate floor, assisting lawmakers and staff with administrative tasks.
“They come here bright-eyed, ready to learn about America … and serve the Senate, which they do,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a news conference Thursday evening. “They’re really invaluable to us.”
Several other senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., expressed their support for the pages and condemned Van Orden’s behavior. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., called on Van Orden to apologize in a tweet Saturday.
“This is inexcusable and embarrassing behavior for a member of Congress or any adult for that matter. The Congressman should do the right thing and apologize,” said Tillis, who regularly sponsors pages from North Carolina.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., defended Van Orden, telling reporters on Friday that it wasn’t “the norm” of the congressman. “I guess the interns have some ritual of laying down or something like that. I think it’s a misunderstanding of all sides,” said McCarthy, adding that he had spoken to Schumer about the incident and plans to speak to Van Orden as well.
Other lawmakers have poked fun at Van Orden.
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, himself a former member of the Senate, tweeted a photo from the floor of the rotunda, writing: “TGIF after a rough week, Senate Pages? I got a great photo, how about you?”