Senators rebuke Wisconsin congressman who yelled vulgarities at high school-age pages
WASHINGTON (AP) — A freshman Republican congressman from Wisconsin is refusing to apologize after he yelled and cursed at high school-aged Senate pages during a late night tour of the Capitol this week, eliciting a bipartisan rebuke from Senate leaders.
Rep. Derrick Van Orden, speaking in a round of interviews Friday on Wisconsin conservative talk radio, did not refute reports of his actions or back down from what he did.
Van Orden used a profanity to describe the pages as lazy and and another to order them off the floor of the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday night, according to a report in the online political newsletter PunchBowl News. The pages were laying down to take photos in the Rotunda, according to the publication.
“I’m not going to apologize for making sure that anybody — I don’t care who you are and who you’re related to — defiles this House,” Van Orden said on “The Jay O’Donnell Show.” “It’s not going to happen on my watch, man.”
Van Orden said he was protecting the integrity of the Capitol Rotunda because it served as a field hospital during the Civil War and it’s where presidents have lain in state upon their deaths. He said the young people he confronted were “goofing off” and that Democrats were making it an issue.
“Would this be an issue if those young people did not have political connections?” Van Orden said on “The Jay Weber Show.” “Why do you think this is an issue, pal?”
A former Navy SEAL who was outside of the Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, Van Orden also appeared to embrace the presence of alcohol in his office the same evening he encountered the pages. Images were posted on social media showing bottles of liquor and beer cans on a desk in his office. Van Orden said on X, the platform previously known as Twitter, that the alcohol was from constituents.
And his spokeswoman Anna Kelly posted: “As the Congressman says, once you cross the threshold to our office, you are in Wisconsin!” She followed that with a beer mug emoji.
Van Orden represents Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District, a GOP-leaning jurisdiction that comprises parts of central, southwestern and western Wisconsin, including moderate exurbs of Minnesota’s Twin Cities.
On Thursday evening, just before the Senate left for its August recess, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., rebuked Van Orden’s behavior and thanked the pages, high school-age students who serve as helpers and messengers around the Senate. Several of the pages were sitting on the Senate floor at the time, smiling and nodding as dozens of senators stood and gave them a standing ovation.
Without mentioning Van Orden by name, Schumer said he was “shocked” to hear about the behavior of a member of the House Republican majority and “further shocked at his refusal to apologize to these young people.” He noted that Thursday was the final day for this class of pages.
“They’re here when we need them,” Schumer said. “And they have served this institution with grace.”
McConnell said he associated himself with Schumer’s words. “Everybody on this side of the aisle feels exactly the same way,” he said.
When asked about McConnell’s rebuke, Van Orden said Friday “I don’t know what it was because I honestly have not tracked any of this stuff.”
Van Orden was elected to Congress in 2022 after a losing bid in 2020. He has insisted that he did not enter the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and on Friday again condemned those who did, calling them “buffoons.” That didn’t stop fellow Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat, from invoking the Jan. 6 attack in criticizing Van Orden.
“Wonder if he told that to his fellow insurrectionists, who were beating police officers on the same ground?” Pocan said on X.
Rebecca Cooke, a Democrat who is running to challenge Van Orden in 2024, called him an embarrassment and a hypocrite. She called Van Orden a “serial harasser” and referenced an incident in June 2021 when Van Orden was upset about a display of LGBTQ+ books at a southwestern Wisconsin library and yelled at a teenager who was working there.
“For someone to perhaps drunkenly, and definitely belligerently, yell at these kids for enjoying our nation’s Capitol is just stupid,” Pocan said Friday. “He would be best to say it was stupid and just move on.”
Bauer reported from Madison, Wisconsin.