House Ethics rejects Gohmert’s appeal of $5,000 metal detector fine

Texas Republican could face a garnishing of his wages

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, speaks during a Freedom Caucus press conference on immigration outside the Capitol on Wednesday, March 17, 2021.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, speaks during a Freedom Caucus press conference on immigration outside the Capitol on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 30, 2021 at 5:58pm

The House Ethics Committee rejected Rep. Louie Gohmert’s appeal of a $5,000 fine levied against him for evading the new metal detectors outside the House chamber in early February after he stepped out of the chamber to use the nearby restroom and then returned to the floor.

Gohmert filed a colorful and strongly worded five-page letter of appeal to the Ethics panel on Feb. 26 after being notified on Feb. 5 of a fine for a “failure to complete security screening” outside the House chamber one day prior.

The Texas Republican called the new security screening and its enforcement “exceedingly arbitrary and discriminatory,” as well as “administratively improper and unconstitutional.”

The metal detectors were hurriedly set up outside of the House chamber after the violent insurrection that overtook the Capitol on Jan. 6. But unlike the fencing and razor wire outside, the metal detectors screened lawmakers and illustrated concern about members themselves being a threat to their peers.

Gohmert contends that he was fully screened to enter the House chamber, but stepped out of the chamber to use the members-only restroom just outside of the Speaker’s Lobby and returned to the chamber through the Speaker’s Lobby, where there was not a metal detector.

“There are not even tanks on toilets so someone could hide a gun in them like in the Godfather movie,” Gohmert wrote.

He also alleged that Democrats were not held to the same screening standards as he was, claiming that New York Democrat Nydia M. Velazquez “walked straight through the metal detector without taking any metal out” on the same day.

When the Capitol Police notices a member violating the rule, the department provides a report to the House sergeant-at-arms, in Gohmert’s case, acting SAA Timothy P. Blodgett, who is then tasked with imposing the $5,000 fine for first-time offenders and $10,000 for subsequent infractions.

Gohmert’s prompt appeal fell within the 30-calendar day window allowed under the rule governing the security screenings and fines.

“A majority of the Committee did not agree to the appeal,” Ethics Chairman Ted Deutch and ranking member Jackie Walorski said in a statement.

The House Ethics Committee is a 10-person panel, equally divided between Republicans and Democrats.

If Gohmert does not pay the fine, eventually the House chief administrative officer is directed to take the money from his salary. He cannot use official funds or campaign funds to cover the cost.

In his appeal, Gohmert said that the scale of the fines have a disproportionate impact on less wealthy members of Congress and suggested that they may dissuade some from running for congressional office.

“Because I have sacrificed to become a public servant and am not a millionaire as is the Speaker, who arbitrarily set the amount of the fine, this kind of massive fine becomes an arbitrary bar to eliminate the non-wealthy from Congress,” wrote Gohmert.

He suggested that the fines be progressive and linked to a member’s relative wealth.

If Gohmert disagrees with the decision of the Ethics panel, he could take the issue to court; however, it is unlikely the courts would rule it is unconstitutional for the House to impose fines on members for breaking chamber rules.

Georgia Republican Andrew Clyde has also been cited for two violations: one on Feb. 3 for $5,000 and another violation on Feb. 5 for $10,000. He has also filed an appeal with the Ethics Committee.

Chris Marquette and Chris Cioffi contributed to this report.