What if they read the Constitution and barely anybody came?
House Republicans hosted the second-ever full reading of the Constitution on the chamber floor Tuesday morning, but it was sparsely attended -- so much so that they ran out of Democrats before they even got past Article IV, which is less than halfway through the document.
All told, just 74 House members read. Two years ago, 137 lawmakers read, and organizers had said they expected 120 to show up this year, and they divided the document into that many sections.
But they ended up having to stretch, giving two or three sections apiece to each reader.
Several Democrats did straggle in during the amendments, for a total of 25. Meanwhile, 49 Republicans read portions.
The House saved the 13th Amendment specifically to be read by civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat. The 13th Amendment officially ended slavery across the country.
Republicans took control of the House last year vowing to restore the Constitution as a central part of floor debates, but an analysis by The Washington Times showed that little has improved on that score.
Some of the chamber's top leaders took part in Tuesday's reading. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer all read parts of the founding document.
Mrs. Pelosi even remained on the floor for most of the reading, following along in her own copy of the Constitution. When one Democrat showed up to read, just before the end, she gestured with a shrug to the nearly empty chamber.
Two Democrats even showed up just as the final reader was speaking, allowing Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, who organized the reading in 2011 and again this year, to put the best face on the turnout.
"We ran out of Constitution before we ran out of readers," he said.
After the reading, Mr. Hoyer, who read a short clause on the Senate's role in impeachment proceedings, told reporters afterward that it was a worthwhile exercise.
"I think reflecting on what the Constitution says is a good thing," he said. "I think it's not a bad thing."
But he demurred in what the broader meaning was.
"We're participating in it. I don't want to call it filler because reading the Constitution is a serious issue for us to consider. Whether this is -- well, I'll leave it at that," he said.
In 2011, the reading was controversial, and several Democrats and Republicans questioned Mr. Goodlatte's decision not to read parts of the Constitution they said had been superseded by later amendments -- such as the 18th Amendment authorizing Prohibition, or the clause that defined slaves as three-fifths of a person for purposes of apportioning representation in Congress.
But nobody objected Tuesday.
Moments after the reading was completed, a protester stood up in the public gallery and unfurled a homemade sign and began chanting.
"Abortion is the shedding of innocent blood," the man said, demanding that the country "stop Obama."
"America, ban assault weapons," he shouted before police were able to drag him out of the chamber.
• Sean Lengell contributed to this article.
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