Heather Cox Richardson
On Friday, November 25, 2022, just over a week ago, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced, “On the very first day of the new Republican-led Congress, we will “read every single word of the Constitution aloud from the floor of the House—something that hasn’t been done in years.”
Yesterday, on Saturday, December 3, 2022, former president Donald Trump, the presumptive leader of the Republican Party, mischaracterized a Twitter thread to claim that Joe Biden’s presidential campaign had successfully pressured Twitter to suppress the story of Hunter Biden’s laptop—the thread actually said something else entirely—and called for overthrowing the Constitution. Trump wrote:
“So, with the revelation of MASSIVE & WIDESPREAD FRAUD & DECEPTION in working closely with Big Tech Companies, the DNC & the Democrat Party, do you throw the Presidential election results of 2020 OUT and declare the RIGHTFUL WINNER, or do you have a NEW ELECTION? A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution. Our great “Founders” did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!”
In case anyone didn’t get the point, Trump followed that post up with another: “UNPRECEDENTED FRAUD REQUIRES UNPRECEDENTED CURE!”
On Sunday, December 4, all but one Republican lawmaker who expects to stay in office for the next two years stayed resolutely silent about Trump’s open attack on the U.S. Constitution, this nation’s founding document, the basis for our government.
That one lawmaker was Representative Michael Turner (R-OH), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, who this morning on CBS’s “Face the Nation” condemned Trump’s attack on the Constitution. But Turner would not say he would not support Trump if he were the party’s nominee in 2024.
Even at that, Turner’s was a lone voice. When George Stephanopoulos, host of “This Week” on ABC News, asked Representative David Joyce (R-OH) if he would support Trump in 2024 after the former president had called for “suspending the Constitution” (to be clear, Trump had called for “terminating” it), Joyce tried to avoid the question but finally said, “I’ll support whoever the Republican nominee is." Joyce is the chair of the Republican Governance Group, whose members claim they are the party’s centrists.
Not all Republicans reacted to Trump’s truly astonishing statement with such easy acceptance. Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), who was removed from party leadership for holding Trump responsible for the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and who has lost her seat in Congress to a Trump supporter, responded to Trump’s statement by saying: “Donald Trump believes we should terminate ‘all rules, regulations and articles, even those found in the Constitution’ to overturn the 2020 election. That was his view on 1/6 and remains his view today. No honest person can now deny that Trump is an enemy of the Constitution.”
Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who, like Cheney, took a seat on the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol and will also be leaving Congress, tweeted: “With the former President calling to throw aside the constitution, not a single conservative can legitimately support him, and not a single supporter can be called a conservative. This is insane. Trump hates the constitution.” Kinzinger tagged McCarthy, third-ranking House Republican Elise Stefanik (R-NY), and Jim Jordan (R-OH), who is expected to take over the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over issues involving the Constitution.
None of them commented.
Conservative Bill Kristol made his questioning broader: “The Federalist Society claims to defend the Constitution,” he tweeted. “Donald Trump, the ex-president with whom the Society worked so closely, has just attacked the Constitution in an incendiary way. Do the Federalist Society or its members have a word to say in defense of our Constitution?”
McCarthy’s statement a week ago that the whole Constitution hadn’t been read on the floor of Congress “in years” was technically true, but it was misleading. It sounded as if McCarthy was promising to do something novel to demonstrate the Republicans’ loyalty to the Constitution.
In fact, Republicans demanded a reading of the Constitution in the House for the first time in its history in 2011 to try to demonstrate that the government had gone beyond the Framers’ intent, although they also cut out all the parts the Framers wrote that have been amended since the document was written. (That meant they cut out the infamous three-fifths clause counting enslaved African Americans as three fifths of a white person for purposes of representation, leading to accusations that they were cherry-picking the Framers’ words.)
Since then, the House has read the Constitution at least twice more, in 2015 and 2017, to promote the idea that Republicans, and Republicans alone, are standing on the U.S. Constitution, while Democrats are abusing it.
The leader of the Republican Party has called for “the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,” and party leaders are silent.
Representatives had not taken the time to read the entirety of the U.S. Constitution on the floor of the House before 2011 because they were presumed to know it. What they did have to say aloud was something far more important for each individual to have on record: their oath of office.
It reads: “I…do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”