At least freshman Utah Rep. Burgess Owens made his first meeting as a new member of the House Judiciary Committee memorable.
He called its Democrats unpatriotic for not supporting a Republican amendment to its rules to require the Pledge of Allegiance at all its meetings. One fired back that Owens shouldn’t lecture about patriotism since he backed overturning the presidential election, which helped lead to an insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Burgess then suggested that his critic, who is Black like Owens, was among those who did not provide due process for the quickly impeached former President Donald Trump, “and of all people, the Black community should know that better than anybody else” the importance of due process to avoid mob action.
The dustup began Thursday during what is normally a routine first meeting by the committee to make subcommittee assignments and adopt rules for the new Congress. Republicans suggested an amendment to require that all meetings start with the pledge, but Democrats pushed back saying the entire House already begins each day with it and it need not be repeated multiple times daily.
Owens jumped in.
“It’s not about words, it is about actions: 15 seconds to show our kids that we are adults who can agree to disagree, and we love our country enough to at least stand and represent our flag,” he said.
Owens said when he was an NFL football player, he would get teary eyed standing for the flag while singing the national anthem. Now “we have guys making $50 million today” who will “not stand for the flag because they’ve been taught by their adults not to love our nation.”
He said the committee should show leadership by standing together to say the pledge and show “what unity looks like” by “saying the words that bring our country together, put our hand on our hearts and meaning it.”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., wanted to question Owens about his comments, but Owens refused to yield. So, Jeffries won recognition for his own time and tore into Owens.
“I was just going to ask him how he voted after a violent mob attacked the Capitol to hunt down members of Congress, to hang [Vice President] Mike Pence, to assassinate [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi to stop us from undertaking our constitutional responsibilities as part of the peaceful transfer of power — more than 100 officers seriously injured, brain injuries, head trauma,” Jeffries said.
“And you want to sit here and lecture us about patriotism?” Jeffries said. “When you voted to object to an election that you know Joe Biden won and perpetrated the ‘big lie?’”
Jeffries added, “The notion of you coming here lecturing us on your first day before this committee [by saying], ‘It’s not about words, it’s about actions.’ You know what, explain your actions on Jan. [6th] when you supported an insurrection.”
He added that it was unpatriotic to provide aid and comfort to a “violent insurrection incited by the former president of the United States of America.”
Owens in turn asked Jeffries whether it was an insurrection in 2016 when some Democrats objected to results of Trump’s first election, and said, “No it was not.”
Jeffries reclaimed his time and said, “A violent insurrection resulted in the spilling of American blood. People died. The Capitol was desecrated. Urine and feces were left behind. The Confederate flag was bandied about. That didn’t even happen in this Capitol during the Civil War. ... That’s undemocratic.”
Later, another Republican yielded more time to Owens to expound on his comments. He then told how he is a descendant of slaves, grew up in the Jim Crow South and knows how important it is to avoid mob rule and preserve due process — which Republicans say Trump did not receive fully in a rushed impeachment debate and vote.
“We cannot become a body that does not give due process, and of all people, the Black community should know that better than anybody else,” Owens said.
The Democratic majority on the committee defeated the amendment to require the Pledge of Allegiance at committee meetings on a straight party-line vote of 21-16.