Yesterday, Reps. Pete Sessions (R-TX) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) failed to take the oath of office on the House floor along with the other 433 members of Congress which caused the GOP caucus to scurry, worrying that some of the congressional actions Sessions and Fitzpatrick took yesterday may not have been valid. This morning, the House passed a resolution to fix this problem by a vote of 257-159 — with 27 Democrats voting in favor, three House members voting “present” (including Sessions and Fitzpatrick), and 16 others not voting. The resolution invalidated any votes Sessions and Fitzpatrick had taken yesterday, but also said that “all other actions the members took would count as if the two representatives were sworn in on the floor.”
After the resolution was introduced, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) took to the House floor to criticize the new Majority for violating its own newly-instituted parliamentary rules. “A new section was created…that required at least three days notice to consider legislation,” he said, adding, “It is particularly important in this case since we’re dealing with a constitutional issue, one that is without precedent.”
While the presiding speaker said the new GOP rules only apply to bills and joint resolutions, Weiner noted that by failing to take the oath of office and then conducting House business, Sessions and Fitzpatrick violated a provision of the Constitution (which is ironic considering Republicans led a reading of the founding document on the House floor yesterday in a pledge to uphold the document):
WEINER: To the great credit of the maker of this resolution…it stipulates right in the first couple of sections, “We violated the Constitution on our very first day.” The constitutional requirement for oath was violated and I give you great credit for recognizing that in the resolution.
Weiner then complained that the House received a grand total of 4 minutes to debate a legislative fix to a violation of the Constitution:
WEINER: They were violating a very important part of these proceedings and yet we have a grand total of two minutes on each side Mr. Drier and to my colleagues in which to debate how to fix that infirmity. Mr. Sessions presided over the Rules Committee during a large portion of which he was not even a duly sworn Member of the United States Congress. Yet we’re doing nothing to go back and see, does that participation influence proceedings at all? … For the first time in the history of this body we are going to pass a fix of a constitutional infirmity with, wait for it, four minutes of debate when we didn’t have the bill until just now!
Indeed, Weiner is correct. By failing to properly take the oath of office, Sessions and Fitzpatrick violated Article VI, clause 3 of the Constitution, which states: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution.”
Moreover, as the Sunlight Foundation notes, Fitzpatrick, who missed the official swearing-in to attend a fundraiser, may have violated House ethics rules.