Way to start things off with a bang, Pete. Pete Sessions, Dallas’ 32nd House district representative and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, skipped out on the swearing in of the new Congress he had a hand in creating. Sessions, who is credited with helping the Republican party retake the majority last November, was at an event for supporters of Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) along with Mr. Fitzpatrick, who also missed being sworn in. The two did, however, take their oath in front of the crowd of over 500 from a the auditorium from a live televised image from the House floor.
But in Congress, the oath is all about location, location, location. Because Pete and Fitz weren’t sworn in on the House floor, they weren’t actually Constitutionally-valid members of Congress when they got down to business. This situation is all the more ironic because Sessions was busted when he was in a meeting of the House Rules Committee, of which he is a member. Chairman David Dreier (R-CA) had to call the meeting to a temporary halt because of Sessions’ lack of status.
Fitzpatrick and Sessions apologized for their absence in a letter released to Politico:
““[W]e 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.”
But since both Fitzpatrick and Sessions had been casting votes all day like rightfully sworn in members of Congress, there was a lot more necessary to sort out the mess than an apology. This morning, the House voted to erase the votes that the congressmen cast before they were sworn in. And even though the voting situation is being sorted out, Democrats and watchdog groups such as the Sunlight Foundation are still crying foul at the use of the Congressional Visitor’s center for Fitzpatrick’s event, pointing to the following rule in the House Ethics Manual:
“House rooms and offices are not to be used for events that are campaign or political in nature, such as a meeting on campaign strategy, or a reception for campaign contributors.” Fitzpatrick insists that the event, which was $30 a person, was not a fundraiser because the ticket included bus fare from suburban Pennsylvania. But the event did allow for bigger donations and included all of the lingo that about federal campaign contributions.
Whether or not ethical charges will come about is up in the air, but Fitzpatrick and Sessions certainly didn’t start off on the right foot.