House lawmakers create a mess by skipping swearing-in ceremony

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A number of votes cast by two Republicans who skipped Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony were nullified on Friday, helping to straighten out a procedural mess caused by their absence. Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Pete Sessions (R-Texas) were at a reception on late-Wednesday during the administration of the oath by Speaker John Boehner on the House floor.

The men took the oath watching the House ceremony on TV at the Capital Visitor Center, while attending a reception for several hundred of Fitzpatrick supporters. The Constitution requires that all members swear to the oath before taking office.

When House leaders learned that the two men had skipped the swearing-in ceremony to attend a reception organized by Fitzpatrick supporters elsewhere in the Capital, they were uncertain whether the motions the men voted on were invalid. House rules require the oath be administered in person by the Speaker.

A cleanup resolution was passed on Friday, 257-159, largely along party lines. It acknowledges the men were not sworn in according to the Constitution and House rules and nullifies their first five votes. Session’s work in a meeting of the Rules Committee, where he is the second highest member, was ratified.

On Friday, Fitzpatrick and Sessions sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, expressing their regret over the incident.

“We are deeply committed to fulfilling our role in our constitutional democracy by maintaining the integrity of the People’s House. Our absence on the House floor during the oath-of-office ceremony for the 112th Congress – while not intentional – fell short of this standard by creating uncertainty regarding our standing in this body,” said the letter.

One group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said they would ask the Office of Congressional Ethics to look into the reception organized by Fitzpatrick, saying that it was a fundraiser, and violated laws against campaign fundraising on federal property.

Participants at the reception paid $30 for a round-trip bus ride from Pennsylvania to D.C., and the form which they filled out listed the amount as a “contribution.” The form asks that checks be made out to Fitzpatrick’s campaign committee.

Fitzpatrick spokesman Darren Smith said the reception was free, and open to everyone, including those who drown down from Pennsylvania on their own. “The $30 was for the cost of the bus, that’s it,” he wrote in an email.

Others in Washington are taking it far more seriously. Meredith McGehee, policy director for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center said she believes that Fitzpatrick seems to have broken campaign finance laws. She said the House ethics committee should look at the reception and determine what type of events lawmakers are permitted on federal property.

“I don’t look at this and say, ‘My God, how venal,'” she said. “I say, ‘Here’s a guy who misses his own swearing-in and then goes and reads the Constitution.’ How ironic. It does show how much the money system has become wrapped up in being a member of Congress.”

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