Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat, yesterday did not say the words “under God” as he led the House in its daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Rep. Pete Sessions, Texas Republican, accused Mr. McDermott of “embarrassing the House” and proving that “he and those like him stand more for the liberal left than they do for our friends and neighbors.”

“The liberal wing of the Democrat Party launched yet another salvo today in its ongoing battle to drive a wedge between Americans and the values and ideals we hold dear,” Mr. Sessions said in a statement last night.

The House has overwhelmingly approved two resolutions expressing outrage at the June 2002 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that it is unconstitutional to have schoolchildren recite the Pledge in class because it includes the words “under God.”

Mr. McDermott was one of seven Democrats who voted against a March 2003 House resolution — approved 400-7 — that condemned the 9th Circuit decision as inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment. The House passed a similar resolution, 416-2 in June 2002, immediately after the court’s decision, and Mr. McDermott joined 10 Democrats in voting “present.”

“Congressman McDermott already knew that he had a problem with the words ‘under God,’ based on two votes he cast. The question is why he put himself in the position of embarrassing the House in this way,” Mr. Sessions said.

When asked about yesterday’s Pledge incident, Mr. McDermott’s spokesman, Mike DeCesare, said his boss “hesitated, unsure of what he should do because the words ‘under God’ are under court review.” Mr. DeCesare confirmed that his boss did omit the words.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in March over whether to uphold the 9th Circuit’s Pledge decision.

Mr. Sessions made a procedural inquiry on the House floor last night to confirm that current law lists the words “under God” as part of the Pledge and the official House record from yesterday will reflect that version of the Pledge — and not what Mr. McDermott said.

Robin Scullin, spokeswoman for C-SPAN, said the producer who covers the House floor heard Mr. McDermott’s altered Pledge recitation yesterday and alerted the main C-SPAN office.

Miss Scullin said C-SPAN, which telecasts House coverage from gavel to gavel, did not receive any calls from viewers about it, but the network’s “Washington Journal” show put in a request for Mr. McDermott to explain on this morning’s program why he omitted the words.

The House has been reciting the Pledge every morning since 1988, alternating between members of both parties to lead it, according to a C-SPAN Web site discussion on the topic. Recitation of the Pledge is listed in the official House rules as the third action in the daily order of business.

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