WASHINGTON (AP) — The reading of the Constitution in the U.S. House of Representatives was interrupted Thursday by a woman who shouted, “Except Obama, except Obama,” to the venerable document’s words on a U.S. citizen’s eligibility to be president.
Just as Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., New Jersey Democrat, was reading “no person, except a natural-born citizen, or a citizen of the United States” is eligible for the presidency, a woman in the visitors gallery yelled out that it did not apply to President Obama.
Rep. Mike Simpson, Idaho Republican, who was presiding over the House, banged the gavel and halted the proceedings, warning that such action from members of the public was a violation of House rules. The woman was quickly removed by Capitol police.
Lawmakers took turns reciting each verse and article of the document. Republicans in charge of the chamber rattled it off with missionary zeal, as if in a school civics class. Democrats pitched in, but with seemingly less ardor.
Historians said it was the first time the 222-year-old governing document had been read in its entirety on the House floor.
So-called “birthers” claim Mr. Obama is ineligible to be president because they say there’s no proof he was born in the United States, with many of the skeptics questioning whether he was actually born in Kenya, his father’s home country.
The Obama campaign issued a certificate of live birth in 2008, an official document from Hawaii showing the president’s birth date, city and name, along with his parents’ names and races. The certificate doesn’t list the name of the hospital where he was born or the physician who delivered him, information collected by the state as part of its vital records. Hawaii’s health director said last year and in 2008 that she had seen and verified Mr. Obama’s original vital records.
Republicans and their tea party allies, who campaigned during the past election on the need for Washington to stop flouting limits on the powers of the federal government as defined by the Constitution, said the reading of the Constitution gave proof to their dedication to the nation’s original principles. Democrats viewed the proceedings with more suspicion.
Before the reading began, Democrats questioned the GOP decision not to read sections of the 222-year-old governing document that were later amended, such as the Article I, Section 2 clause that classified slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of congressional apportionment and taxation.
“It’s a consequence of who we are,” Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., Illinois Democrat and son of civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson, said in reference to the three-fifth’s clause and its deletion from the reading.
Rep. Jay Inslee, Washington Democrat, while saying the reading was “special for all of us,” asked whether it was “not intended to create some statement of congressional intent.”
Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, who organized the reading, noted that Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat and a pioneer of the civil rights movement, has been asked to read the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. He said he hoped the event would “inspire many more Americans to read the Constitution.”
The recital began with new Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, reading the “We the People” preamble. Then Mr. Boehner’s predecessor, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, recited the first paragraph of Article I, which describes the powers of the legislative branch.
They were followed, more or less alternating between parties, with lawmakers repeating momentous clauses on the rights and responsibilities of the three branches of governments and more prosaic sections regarding the oversight of forts and dockyards and the ban on office holders receiving gifts from foreign princes.
The entire reading of the seven articles and 27 amendments of the Constitution took about an hour and a half. Members volunteered on a first-come, first-serve basis with the reading of the Second Amendment clause on the right to bear arms going to freshman Rep. Frank Guinta, New Hampshire Republican.
For the first hour of the recital the Republican side of the chamber was full, while far fewer Democrats occupied the other side. After an hour, the number of Republican listeners also declined.