By Molly K. Hooper - 01/06/11 12:55 PM EST
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will spend Thursday morning in an historic exercise: reading the U.S. Constitution on the House floor.
After holding a 10 a.m. quorum call, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) will direct the time on the floor to allow a mix of members a chance at reading aloud portions of the nation's founding document.
The reading — a symbolic inclusion in the GOP-led majority’s newly approved rules package — is expected to last several hours.
A representative of the House Office of the Historian told The Hill the document has never been read aloud on the floor, though it has twice been inserted into the Congressional Record.
Goodlatte said Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will read the preamble, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will read Article I, Section I, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will read from there.
“And after that we’ll start yielding to members on a first-come, first-serve basis,” Goodlatte said.
A Goodlatte aide explained that the Constitution will be read in its most modern, amended form. This will prevent lawmakers from having to recite politically uncomfortable portions, notably the provisions on the “three-fifths compromise” under which slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of taxation and representation.
West Virginia Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall said that his mentor, the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who famously carried a pocket version of the Constitution, would be proud of the House for the historic undertaking.
Rahall said, “There was no man that knew the Constitution in this body, like he did. And he will be smiling down upon this body during the reading of the Constitution.”
Many Republicans have expressed interest in taking their turn with a reading, including Rep. Steve King (Iowa).
“I asked Goodlatte and he said it will be first come, first serve,” King explained. “I said, ‘I want to start and I don’t want to yield.’ ”
The Tea Party favorite lawmaker added he might insert some asides if he gets to read.
“I might do that — like the Commerce Clause. Democrats: Do not interpret this to think you can do anything you want to do, it’s a very limited authority,” King joked.
Goodlatte said there will be no ad-libs permitted.
“[Members] will not be allowed to” editorialize, Goodlatte said.
Some Democrats are frowning on the planned reading, with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) calling it a diversionary tactic.
“It’s a purely symbolic issue that they have correctly figured out will get [the media] all diverted when it makes no difference one way or the other, and not talk about the real issues, which are: Can we adequately fund the financial reform and healthcare [laws],” Frank told The Hill.
A couple of his fellow Democratic colleagues, including Reps. Pete Stark (Calif.) and Elijah
Cummings (Md.), walked away when asked for comment on the reading of the Constitution.
For his part, Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pa.), who holds the seat of the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), intends to participate. He called Thursday’s reading “pretty neat.”
—Josiah Ryan contributed.
This post was updated at 11:17 a.m.