The U.S. Capitol Police have apologized to anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and the wife of Rep. C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican, for removing them from Tuesday night's State of the Union address.
Like Mrs. Sheehan, Beverly Young arrived at the Capitol wearing a T-shirt bearing a statement about the Iraq war. However, unlike Mrs. Sheehan, Mrs. Young's gray shirt read, "Support the Troops -- Defending Our Freedom."
On Wednesday evening, Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer met with Mr. Young, the chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. The lawmaker told The Washington Times, "He apologized to me in person and acknowledged Tuesday night's decision had no basis in rule or law."
When asked whether Chief Gainer's response was sufficient, Mr. Young said, "An apology is better than nothing. ... The embarrassing thing is they cleared her through security with this shirt and escorted her to her seat with this shirt."
The Youngs are popular on Capitol Hill, particularly because they spend a lot of time visiting wounded troops at National Naval Medical Center, Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. In addition, Mrs. Young regularly donates gifts to U.S. war veterans. Her previous advocacy caused the Pentagon to reconsider plans to make it more difficult for veterans to receive private donations.
On Tuesday, Mrs. Young was sitting about six rows from first lady Laura Bush when she was asked to leave. She told the St. Petersburg Times, "They said I was protesting. I said, 'Read my shirt; it is not a protest.' They said, 'We consider that a protest.' I said, 'Then you are an idiot.'"
Mrs. Sheehan, a guest of Rep. Lynn Woolsey, California Democrat, wore a shirt that read, "2245 Dead. How many more?"
Mrs. Woolsey said, "Since when is free speech conditional on whether you agree with the president? Cindy Sheehan, who gave her own flesh and blood for this disastrous war, did not violate any rules of the House of Representatives, [she] merely wore a shirt that highlighted the human cost of the Iraq war and expressed a view different than that of the president."
Meanwhile, yesterday, a third lawmaker said police had taken a guest of his from the gallery.
Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat, said he'd "like to find out more information" on what transpired, but he told the Associated Press that the man who was removed "is a constituent of mine. I invited him proudly." Mr. Hastings met with Chief Gainer and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert to discuss the incident.
House rules do not outline a dress code for gallery guests; however, the rules prohibit acts of "unlawful entry" and "unlawful demonstration."
Although Mrs. Sheehan and Mrs. Young were removed from the night's proceedings, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, voluntarily avoided the president's address. A Kennedy representative said he was "spending time with his sister."