Dems Seek Charges Against GOP Rep. Who Removed Painting From Capitol

AP

This post has been updated.

Republican Reps. Brian Babin (R-TX) and Dana Rorbacher (R-CA) were seen carrying a controversial painting, which depicts police as animals confronting black protestors, to the office of Rep. Clay Lacy (D-MO) on Tuesday afternoon. It was the second time in five days the painting had been removed from its place in the Cannon Office Building tunnel.

“Untitled #1,” painted by a constituent of Lacy’s and one of many winners of the Congressional Art Competition, was hanging in the Capitol for months until conservative outlets brought attention to the work last week.

Rorbacher, in a video posted to Twitter by Roll Call’s Alex Gangitano, is heard saying of the work: “This is the Capitol, and you’re not permitted to have hateful stuff in the Capitol. That’s why we don’t have the Mississippi flag.”

Gangitano also posted video of Babin and Rorbacher returning the painting to Clay’s office:

Prior to the painting being taken down for a second time, Clay and others were urging Capitol Police to press charges against a Republican congressman who last week removed a piece of artwork by one of his constituents that depicted police officers as pigs.

Clay and members of the Congressional Black Caucus re-installed the painting Tuesday morning after Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) took it down and returned it to Clay’s office after a discussion in a Republican conference meeting about the painting.

“I am very pleased that today, we have restored the winning painting to its assigned location. But this is really not about a student art competition anymore…it’s about defending the Constitution,” Clay said at the time in a statement emailed to TPM Tuesday.

“It is just pathetic that some Republican members and alt-right media types, who constantly refer to themselves as constitutional conservatives, don’t think that same document protects the fundamental free speech rights of my 18-year old constituent.”

The Missouri congressman told the Washington Post on Monday night he had spoken with the Capitol Police about pressing charges against Hunter.

“He had no right to take that picture down,” Clay said. “It’s thievery.”

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, went further, telling the Post: “We want him to get whatever charge a private citizen would get if they walked into the Capitol and took down a painting.”

In a call with TPM Tuesday, Clay’s communications director, Steven Engelhardt, said that Clay “will be filing a police complaint” against Hunter.

The painting in question had been hanging in a prominent hallway in the Capitol Building alongside dozens of other winners of the Congressional Art Competition for months. It was only after conservative media outlets began writing about the work, which depicts police officers as animals pointing their guns at protestors in St. Louis, last week that it caught the attention of congressional Republicans.

Hunter seemed unfazed just before the painting was re-installed Tuesday morning.

“The Capitol Police aren’t going to arrest me for taking down a picture that portrays them as pigs,” he told “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday.

Hunter said that, were the painting to be re-installed, he would ask House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to intervene.

“Paul has to do something about this,” Hunter said on “Fox & Friends.” “I can’t keep taking it down over and over. That becomes kind of a tit-for-tat thing. Art work like this needs to not be up.”

But, he continued later, “if they put it up, we’re probably going to keep taking it down.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously assistant editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.

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