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Column: Kevin McCarthy can’t govern, so he resorts to cynical stunts like reading the Constitution aloud for 43 minutes

A gray-haired man speaks from a podium.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield).
(Samuel Corum / Getty Images)
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To hear the Republicans tell it, the U.S. Constitution has been beaten, buffeted and willfully misconstrued by radical socialists and liberal Democrats who hope to twist it to encourage abortions, promote transgender rights and confiscate Americans’ guns.

But have no fear, they say. Help is on the way! Since the new Republican majority took over the House of Representatives last month, the Constitution and the founding principles of American democracy are once again being defended and protected.

Here’s how: First, new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy instructed members of Congress to read the entire document aloud from the floor of the House, which they did for 43 minutes last week. That’ll fix things! McCarthy kicked off the show himself, reading the preamble.

Opinion Columnist

Nicholas Goldberg

Nicholas Goldberg served 11 years as editor of the editorial page and is a former editor of the Op-Ed page and Sunday Opinion section.

Then, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), put in place a new rule requiring that the Pledge of Allegiance be recited before each committee meeting. (Unfortunately, Gaetz accidentally invited an accused murderer awaiting trial to lead it the first day, according to the Daily Beast.)

Next, the House passed a resolution denouncing “the horrors of socialism” and opposing the implementation of socialist policies in the United States. Republicans were apparently trying to tie progressive Democrats to the likes of Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin and Kim Jong Un.

And finally, for good measure, the GOP leadership removed the metal detectors outside the House chamber. It seems that some Republicans had argued that their 2nd Amendment right to carry guns wherever they go was being infringed.

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Together, these bold moves are supposed to, well, do something to make our once-great republic great again, and to fight back against those who are subverting our national principles. After all, didn’t Donald Trump tell us that the Constitution — our “treasured and precious inheritance” — was under threat of demolition by left-wing mobs, radicals, socialists and liberals?

I met repeatedly with California Sen. Feinstein and came both to admire her and to like her. But I’m glad she’s decided not to run for re-election.

The only problem is, it’s not true.

In fact, this is an entirely cynical and empty display of performative patriotism on the part of House Republicans. These steps are not a balm for the bruised national soul, nor will they ensure domestic tranquility or make us a more perfect union, to use the words of the preamble McCarthy read. They’re merely part of the continuing effort by Republicans to prove they’re more energetic flag-wavers than their opponents.

And this from the people who refused to accept the 2020 election results.

In the Republicans’ defense, it’s hardly the first time politicians have wrapped themselves in the flag and pandered to American chauvinism to win votes.

Also in their defense, there is little else they can do when they only control the House and not the Senate or White House. Naturally they’re thrown back on symbolic, attention-seeking gestures.

The House has no leader, just one unmoored individual handing out committee assignments to even wilder fringe figures.

I imagine the republic will survive these stunts.

But one part of all this is not just performative and harmless; it could have meaningful consequences. That’s getting rid of the weapons detectors at the entrance to the House chamber.

You may not have been aware this was a contentious issue on Capitol Hill. But it seems that after the events of Jan. 6, 2021, several metal detectors were installed to help enforce the rule that guns are prohibited on the floor of the House.

This didn’t go over well with members of the lunatic fringe of the GOP who objected to having to go through the machines the same way the public did, and chafed under the restriction on their ability to carry guns wherever they wanted.

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), for instance, on at least one occasion refused to hand her bag over to Capitol police to be searched even after it set off the magnetometer. Boebert is an outspoken gun rights enthusiast who often carries a Glock pistol.

Several Republican members of Congress were fined for bypassing the metal detectors.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), then the leader of the House Freedom Caucus, told Axios that “I’m fine” with members carrying guns around the Capitol. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said she’s against “ALL gun-free zones.”

But surely we can agree that security is serious business at the Capitol?

Nope, apparently we can’t even agree on that.

The Capitol was the scene of violence even before Jan. 6, 2021. In 1856, for instance, Sen. Charles Sumner, an abolitionist Republican from Massachusetts, was beaten bloody and unconscious on the floor of the Senate by cane-wielding, pro-slavery Rep. Preston Brooks (D-S.C.). Just imagine if he’d had a Glock!

The hammer attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband at their San Francisco home grew out of a culture that rewards stridency and provocation.

In 1954, four Puerto Rican nationalists entered the House gallery with handguns and opened fire, wounding five congressmen on the House floor.

There have been other duels, shootings, fistfights and attacks in the Capitol and on its grounds over the years, including bombings in 1971 and 1983.

More recently, in 2022, the Capitol Police investigated some 7,500 threats against members of Congress. Then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was shot in 2011 and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) was shot in 2017, though neither of those shootings happened on Capitol grounds.

All this strikes me as serious enough that partisan gun gamesmanship should be put on hold and security decisions should be made on their merits. As another of America’s founding documents might put it, that’s self-evident.

What goes on on Capitol Hill these days is truly demoralizing. Vicious, counterproductive politics rule the day. Even as we recover from two recent impeachments, a mob assault on the Capitol and a near constitutional crisis, the United States faces daunting military, economic, health and environmental threats that require immediate, concerted attention.

Surely there’s a way to meet those challenges that would be more effective than reading tendentiously from the country’s founding documents, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance several times a day, denouncing a nonexistent socialist threat and inviting members to bring guns onto the floor of Congress.

@Nick_Goldberg

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