The problem with the Republicans’ performative Constitution reading

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s original plan for performative patriotism didn’t work out well. Still scrambling to secure the votes he’d need to win the gavel, the California Republican said in November that, under his leadership, Congress would start every day with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. There would be “no exceptions,” the congressman declared.

The problem, of course, was 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 McCarthy’s vow was entirely redundant.

And so, he made a new pitch soon after, promising that on “the very first day of the new Republican-led Congress,” members would read the Constitution aloud.

We now know, of course, that on the very first day of the new Republican-led Congress, McCarthy was still struggling to convince his own members to elect him speaker. But as The New York Times noted, the party finally got around to it this week.

[O]n Tuesday, 35 days after the dawn of their majority and hours before President Biden was set to give his State of the Union address in the chamber, Republicans stood one by one for a 43-minute recitation of the document. … Mr. McCarthy kicked off the proceedings with little fanfare. “Um, I will start,” he said, before launching into the “we the people” preamble.

The fact that this happened is not, in and of itself, especially interesting. The reading occurred in a largely empty House chamber, and the effort generated very little attention. Indeed, it was predictably overshadowed by a presidential State of the Union address delivered in the same room just hours later.

But the performative display wasn’t intended to accomplish anything meaningful. Rather, it was apparently a small part of a larger pattern intended to position the Republican Party as the patriotic party.

Last week, for example, GOP members of the House Judiciary Committee picked an odd fight over how many times members should participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. This week, it was the latest Constitution reading. The Times’ report added that the steps are “aimed at signaling patriotism and a devotion to the nation’s founding principles.”

In theory, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. In practice, there’s a disconnect between the message and the messengers.

Symbolic gestures are fine, as far as they go, but if Republicans want to demonstrate real patriotism, maybe the party could commit to accepting election results? And showing less sympathy of Jan. 6 rioters?

And perhaps GOP leaders could even stop threatening to impose a deliberate economic catastrophe on American families by way of their debt ceiling crisis?

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