BY ALEX GANGITANO AND REMA RAHMAN
Updated 6:45 p.m. | A painting by a constituent of Missouri Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay has been removed from the walls of the Cannon tunnel by Republicans three times — and replaced after each incident.
“We might just have to kick somebody’s a– and stop them,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric L. Richmond said, when asked if the painting needed security personnel to protect it.
The artwork, entitled “Untitled #1,” depicts police-community relations in Ferguson, Missouri, and is from the Capitol’s annual high school art competition. Republicans have taken offense to the painting’s depictions of police officers and others as animals.
Earlier in the day, Colorado GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn took down the painting after Clay and Democratic colleagues held a news conference to announce that they were returning it to join a display of about 400 paintings from the contest.
California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter took the painting down last Friday and delivered it to Clay’s office.
Clay called the attempts to remove the painting “childish.”
The Missouri Democrat said he spoke with Hunter, who told him he would not attempt to remove the painting again. When asked if he would put the painting back up if another member tried to take it down, Clay replied, “Who knows?”
Richmond demurred when asked by Roll Call about his next course of action after the painting was removed a third time.
“We have important things like Jeff Sessions’ confirmation and we’re not going to get distracted. But the whole Republican Party versus some little kid? That’s probably not a fair fight,” the CBC chairman said, referring to the painter, a former St. Louis, Missouri, high school student.
Lamborn said in a statement he thought removing the artwork was the appropriate thing to do.
“I could not, in good conscience, continue to walk by a painting that so flagrantly disrespected the brave police officers that protect us here in the Capitol and in our communities across the country,” the Colorado Republican said.
“I decided to continue the protest started by my colleague Congressman Hunter and I hope that permanent action is taken to remove this brazen attack on the brave men and women who make up the Thin Blue Line,” he said.
On Tuesday, Clay defended himself and the artist of the controversial painting as he first returned it to the display.
“I do not agree or disagree with the painting, but I will fight to protect this young man’s right to express himself,” he said, standing in front of the painting.
Clay later told Roll Call that Lamborn said the piece of art “doesn’t belong here” when he brought it to his office on Tuesday.
Clay hung the painting back up for the second time with a staffer on the way to House votes in the afternoon.
The painting by artist David Pulphus has generated controversy since late last month when police groups objected to its display in the Capitol.
On Tuesday, Clay said, “I am not anti-police. I have numerous family members that are part of law enforcement.”
But the congressman also said he could understand why Pulphus feels the way he does. Ferguson was engulfed in rioting in the days after Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, was fatally shot by a white police officer.
“When you think about how this young man formed his impression of law enforcement over the last five years, at the age of 13, he witnessed Trayvon Martin’s death. Fast forward two years to Michael Brown,” Clay said.
“Mr. [Darren] Wilson’s behavior was animalistic,” he said, referring to the Ferguson police officer who shot Brown.
Pulphus submitted the painting while a student at St. Louis’ Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School, located in Clay’s district. He is now attending college.
Before Hunter removed the painting, it had been hanging in the Capitol for months and was supposed to remain until this summer.
The painting had just been discussed during a meeting of House Republicans before Hunter took it down last week.
Hunter passed through the tunnel on the way to the Capitol before Clay’s news conference Tuesday and told reporters, “I just felt it was something that had to be done, so I just did it.”
He also said that Washington Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, a former sheriff, is going to ask the Architect of the Capitol to remove the painting and that he plans on exploring “formal mechanisms” to have it removed.
On Monday night, Clay said he asked Capitol Police to file a complaint against Hunter for theft of the painting but the police were unsure how to proceed. But he added that if Hunter would apologize, that would be enough.
Richmond accused Hunter of taking the painting down to distract from an Office of Congressional Ethics review he currently faces over questions on his spending from campaign funds.
“Any crisis manager would tell you, if you want them to stop talking about your ethics, create another issue. Unfortunately, he picked on an 18-year-old artist,” Richmond said Tuesday. “Please don’t let this diversion take away from the real issue and that is misappropriation of campaign funds, misappropriation of taxpayer funds, and now, misappropriations of a painting.”
Georgia Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson called Hunter’s removal of the painting “anti-American” and pointed to the California Republican being a supporter of President-elect Donald Trump.
“Now we have a president who routinely tries to muzzle the press or have the press conform to what he wants them to say,” Johnson said.
Last week, Hunter told Politico he wasn’t concerned about repercussions.
“Blowback from what?” he said. “Taking a down a painting that depicts policemen as pigs? No, I’m not.”