January 10, 2017
WASHINGTON — In a devolving tit-for-tat, Republicans and Democrats tangled Tuesday over a high school student's painting with the image of pig in a police uniform that is part of a Capitol Hill art exhibit.
Republican lawmakers kept taking it down, and Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., kept putting it back up.
The painting depicts Ferguson, Missouri, with the image of a pig in a police uniform aiming a gun at a protester.
Clay rehung the painting Tuesday morning after a Republican lawmaker found it offensive and removed it. Joined by several lawmakers, including other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Clay said returning the painting was about defending the Constitution.
"I do not agree or disagree with this painting," Clay said. "But I will fight to defend this young man's right to express himself because his artwork is true for him and he is entitled to that protection under the law."
David Pulphus, 18, won an annual arts competition in Clay's congressional district. His picture portrays events in Ferguson after the shooting of an unarmed teenager set off protests. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., removed the painting last Friday and returned it to Clay's office.
After Clay restored the painting, Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., removed it again and took it to Clay's office. Clay put it back up again.
A short time later, two other Republicans, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California and Brian Babin of Texas, took it down again delivered it to Clay's office.
Clay put it back up again.
Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., is taking the lead on trying to resolve the controversy. Reichert is asking the architect of the Capitol to make a ruling on whether the painting complies with the rules of the art contest.
Republicans have cited a rule that says, "Exhibits depicting subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature are not allowed."
The Missouri congressman said it is "pathetic" that some Republicans and "alt-right media types" constantly refer to themselves as constitutional conservatives, but don't think the same document protects the free-speech rights of his constituent.
The painting showed a police officer taking aim with signs saying "history" and "stop kill." The police officer has an elongated face with tusks, much like a razorback pig. The background includes the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and a young black man looking out from prison bars. One of the figures also appears to show a protester as a wolf.
A hallway between a House office building and the Capitol is filled with winning artwork from students around the country.
Some police organizations cheered Hunter's actions.
Hunter dismissed the free-speech argument and said GOP leaders will seek to have the painting removed.
"You can't have offensive things in the U.S. Capitol. It violated the arts competition rules," Hunter said.
Clay said he's ready to have that debate. He said there are numerous works of art around the Capitol that he and his constituents find offensive. He specifically cited a portrait of the late Sen. James Eastland of Mississippi, a staunch segregationist, and statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, leaders of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.