“This is disgusting and it’s not befitting the Capitol,” Ryan said Thursday on “The Mike Gallagher Show,” adding that “this isn’t a question of First Amendment rights.”
Missouri Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay, who sponsored the painting and has consistently fought for it, fired back.
“Speaker and his Republican colleagues are attempting to suppress free speech with their own brand of retroactive, vigilante censorship against my constituent,” Clay said in a statement. “Apparently, they believe that the 1st Amendment does not protect him. That’s not only mean-spirited and wrong, it’s also unconstitutional.”
The painting has been taken down by four different Republican members on three separate occasions over the past week and dropped off at Clay’s office. Clay has returned it every time to where it hangs in the tunnel between the Cannon House Office Building and the Capitol.
“We govern what paintings can go up here. This one slipped by for some reason,” Ryan said on the radio program Thursday. “This is not a free-for-all in a contest where anything goes in the Capitol. … This does not fit the rules, so we are processing this decision right now.”
Clay took offense to Ryan’s assertion that the painting had “slipped by.”
“This painting by David Pulphus, just like the other 400+ entries, was accepted and approved by the Congressional Art Competition and it has been peacefully displayed in a public forum for more than six months,” he said in his statement.
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Washington GOP Rep. Dave Reichert, a former sheriff, sent a letter on Wednesday asking Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers to review the artwork. Reichert said it violated the rules of the competition, pointing to a passage in the rules that bans “exhibits depicting subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature.”
“While it is not my desire to censor individuals’ freedom of speech and expression, we are a nation of laws and rules and our rights are only as secure as the institutions built to enforce those laws,” the congressman wrote.
Jennifer Shutt and Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.