Republicans patch over constitutional snafu

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Call it a constitutional do-over. Two days after they took control of the House, Republicans on Friday had to clean up the mess left when two of their members failed to properly take the oath of office, even though they had been voting and conducting business as if they had.

Rep. Pete Sessions, Texas Republican and a member of the GOP leadership, and freshman Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick, Pennsylvania Republican, were not in the House chamber when new Speaker John A. Boehner administered the oath, which all sides now agree meant they were not duly sworn in.

On Friday, the House voted 257-159 to invalidate the votes the two men had cast but to ratify the other business they conducted, such as introducing bills, submitting statements and participating in committee action.

Democrats protested, arguing Republicans were jamming through a patch to a constitutional violation with barely any debate and without the three days GOP leaders have promised lawmakers to read and consider legislation.

“We violated the Constitution on our very first day,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner, New York Democrat, though he did credit Republicans for acknowledging the seriousness of the mistake.

Rep. David Dreier, chairman of the Rules Committee, said the two members were on the other side of the Capitol complex when the oath was administered. According to the rules, members must be in proximity to the Speaker when taking the oath — which usually means on the House floor.

“Any member who does not vote in favor of this resolution is allowing the problem to persist,” Mr. Dreier said.

The episode left a small smudge in the sheen of the newly-minted House Republican majority, which has promised to show increased fealty to the Constitution.

In fact, Mr. Fitzpatrick participated in Thursday’s reading of the Constitution on the House floor, despite having not been properly sworn.

Adding to Republicans’ woes, open-government advocates said the two lawmakers missed the swearing-in because they were at a fundraiser on Capitol grounds — which the advocates said is another breach of rules.

In the vote, 27 Democrats joined 230 Republicans in voting to repair the constitutional breach. Mr. Sessions and Mr. Fitzpatrick both voted present.

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