Heard on the Hill

Ryan Calls Ferguson Painting ‘Disgusting’

Reichert sends letter to AOC saying painting violates contest’s rules

Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr. passes by Missouri artist David Pulphus’ painting after it was rehung on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan is siding with his party and wants the painting of police-community relations in Ferguson, Missouri, that depicts police officers and others as animals to be taken down.

“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.

Clay and fellow Democrat Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland on Wednesday sent a letter asking Ryan to leave the artwork hanging in the Cannon tunnel.

[Clay and First Amendment Scholar Ask Speaker Not to Remove Ferguson Painting]

“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.”

[Hunter Removes Controversial Ferguson Police Painting from Cannon Tunnel]

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.

Heard on the Hill This Week: The Saga of the Student Painting Heist

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.”

[Reichert Finds Ferguson Police Relations Painting in the Capitol Offensive]

“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.

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