After McKinney, many lawmakers still dress without their congressional pins

Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) certainly isn’t the only one.

As recently as last summer, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) went unrecognized by security personnel as he tried to enter a building on the Capitol grounds.

He wasn’t offended; he simply pulled out his identification card and went on his way.

Boehner, who was just a lowly committee chairman at the time, wasn’t wearing his congressional pin. He told The Hill that he’s not a pin-wearing guy. He revealed his wrists, showing that he doesn’t wear a watch or any jewelry except for his gold wedding ring, which is set off against deeply tanned skin.

Boehner said he wore his pin for one week when he came to Congress and hasn’t worn one since. At one point after the Gulf War, he said, Capitol Police ordered members to stop wearing pins for fear that they might be targeted.

That was enough for him. “After that, why would I ever want wear it?” he asked, adding that since he became majority leader earlier this year no one has asked for ID.

There are a range of reasons why some members choose to wear pins and others do not, yet there is no discernable pattern.

For some, it’s automatic. They don’t want to be stopped at the door, so they wear it. For others, it’s a privilege that few have — a sign that they are proud to be in an exclusive club.

“I think it’s a matter of preference,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). “I feel comfortable wearing it. Even in your district it sometimes helps and sometimes, depending how it’s designed, people sometimes compliment you on it.”

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a disheveled member with a mop of overgrown white hair, said he doesn’t have enough organization in his life to keep up with wearing a pin.

“I’ve never worn one,” he said. “I have enough trouble combing my hair in the morning. … Moving a pin from one suit to another is way beyond me.”

Asked about the potential confusion that not wearing a pin can cause when entering a protected, sometimes congested, congressional building, he replied, “I have a very trusting face.”

An experienced security employee echoed Miller’s lighthearted attitude about the pin and its relevance to Capitol security, saying that pins alone don’t keep legislators safe.

Perhaps the better question is: Should police stop a lawmaker who doesn’t wear a pin? And if stopped, should pin-free lawmakers be polite, or in the recent cases of McKinney or Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), react with irritation?

In the episode with McKinney, she struck the officer in the chest with her cell phone and later alleged that he stopped her because she is black. Brown did not make a similar accusation, but she was obviously annoyed.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said McKinney’s racial allegation is “very ridiculous. It’s the height of arrogance to say it’s race-related.”

Simpson said he dutifully wears his pin “because it’s what you’re supposed to do. I don’t expect all the officers to know me. I don’t want some officer to grab me and pull me aside.”

Another security employee familiar with lawmakers said race had nothing to do with McKinney and Brown: “The Hill is a place where you should always be in proper attire. I’m not sure what they had on that day.”

A Capitol Police officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity said learning members’ faces is a courtesy, not a requirement.

“At no point in our mission statement does it say, ‘Know every member by name,’” he said. “At no point will they say, ‘Know each member by face.’”

Of course, recognizing faces in the Senate is not really an issue because there are only 100 of them. The House, with its 435 representatives plus delegates, is a different story.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) was recently spotted wearing a dapper beige suit sans pin. Asked why, he replied, “I know who I am.”

In a more serious vein, he explained, “I’m not a guy who wears pins — any pins. I just know from experience if I wore my pin I’d forget to change it from one suit to another.

“Everybody is a little different. To me, I sometimes think it looks a little showy, that I’m trying to brag that I’m a member: ‘Oh, he thinks he’s a big deal with a pin.’”

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), who typically shies away from walking in lockstep with any kind of authority, is a regular pin-wearing lawmaker. In fact, he has a general rule that at night he keeps the pin with something he needs the next day, such as his shoes or keys.

His reasons for wearing it? “As long as it’s helpful to the Capitol Police and it does nothing more than tell the terrorists who to shoot first,” he said. “It’s also easier than having a body piercing.”

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who was a police officer for 12 years, is obviously a stickler when it comes to the pin. “It’s just courtesy to the police having been one myself,” he said. “You can’t expect them to know all of us.”

With 14 years in Congress, he now has seven pins, which, he said, makes it easier to find at least one of them.

The lawmaker said he hasn’t been asked to identify himself since his first term in Congress and doesn’t recall getting too upset about it. “No, no cell phone to the chest,” he joked.

Stupak said some Democrats like to wear the pins from the 103rd Congress, when Democrats were in power and, he explained, when “things were much better off in this country.”

Some members are part-time pin wearers. For instance, Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas) wears his with official business attire but wouldn’t dream of attaching it to the more laid-back clothing he wears to socialize.

“I just assume it’s part of the uniform,” he said. “Even when I’m wearing the pin, at times I will pull out my ID in preparation for a building I don’t normally go into.

“If I’m in civilian clothes after hours I automatically take out my member’s card, even in the building in which I work. It’s not asking very much to be wearing your member’s pin.”

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said he sports his pin proudly when he’s in Washington but explained that his main reason is to help the police. At home, he goes without it.

“I don’t even have those plates,” he said, referring to the congressional license plates some members install on their cars. “I try to be as anonymous as possible. If I still needed a pin after 14 years for people to know who I am I would be a failure at politics.”

For some members, wearing the pin is a matter of habit.

“I have one special place” to keep it, said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). “I’ve gotten in the habit of doing a double check. I keep it on top of the nightstand.”

Rep. Henry Brown Jr. (R-S.C.) said that he feels proud to display his pin but that he, too, is careful about where he keeps it and explained that he normally switches it over at night when he lays out his next day’s clothing before bed.

“You always check,” he said. “It’s like leaving home without your shoes.”