Democrat re-hangs painting depicting cops as pigs
© Greg Nash

A tug of war between Democrats and Republicans over a controversial painting escalated Tuesday, with lawmakers taking turns removing the painting and re-hanging it in a Capitol thoroughfare. 

Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) returned the controversial painting, depicting a confrontation between black protesters and police officers portrayed as feral pigs, to its original place in the Capitol complex on Tuesday after a Republican lawmaker personally removed it.

The painting had been displayed in a highly trafficked tunnel connecting the Capitol and two House office buildings since June as part of an annual high school art competition.

But Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) took down the painting and brought it to Clay’s office on Friday after conservative news outlets had taken notice in recent weeks.

Clay, surrounded by fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus, said taking down the painting violated the freedoms of speech and expression.

“This is really not about a student art competition anymore. This is about protecting the Constitution,” Clay said.

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Within three hours of Clay re-hanging the painting, it was taken down again — this time by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.).

The painting was down for less than 15 minutes before Clay restored it for a second time, an aide to Clay said.

But more GOP lawmakers picked up where Lamborn left off.
 
Within three hours after Clay replaced the painting for a second time, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Brian Babin (R-Texas) took it down together and brought it back once again to the Missouri Democrat's office.

Law enforcement organizations offended by the depiction of police officers as pigs had asked Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJordan on leadership loss: 'We knew it was an uphill fight' McCarthy defeats Jordan for minority leader in 159-to-43 vote The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Leadership elections in Congress | Freshman lawmakers arrive | Trump argues he can restrict reporter access MORE (R-Wis.) last week to remove the painting. Capitol Police officers had also taken offense at the picture, which is currently located near a police security checkpoint.

Clay is trying to file a complaint with the Capitol Police accusing Hunter of theft.

Joe Kasper, a spokesman for Hunter, said it's "laughable" to consider it theft when the painting was brought to Clay's office.

Capitol Police are declining to take up Clay's charge, he added.

If anything, Kasper said, law enforcement have been thanking Hunter for taking down the painting.

"Hunter made his point and the outpouring of support among law enforcement and families has been truly amazing. If anything, all Clay is doing is helping to solidify Hunter's standing with such an important constituency and we'll certainly take it," Kasper said.

Clay countered that the St. Louis police chief, Sam Dotson, had praised the efforts to protect his constituent's painting. 

The painting has inflamed tensions on Capitol Hill between the two parties.

The Hill asked Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, if the painting would need someone to monitor it around the clock to prevent further removals.

"No," Richmond replied. "We might just have to kick somebody's ass and stop them, though."

House Republicans discussed the painting during a morning conference meeting on Tuesday and concluded it violates the art competition’s rules, according to members in attendance.

They concluded the painting violates the art competition's guidelines that no submissions depict "sensationalistic" subjects of "contemporary political controversy." Ryan told members he was going to look into removing the painting, spokeswoman AshLee Strong said.

Rep. David Reichert (R-Wash.), a former sheriff, plans to ask the Architect of the Capitol to remove the painting. 

The painting, by student David Pulphus, features a confrontation between a protester, portrayed as a black panther, and two police officers who look like feral pigs.

A black police officer depicted as a human is shown escorting a protester off to the side.

When told that Ryan is reviewing a process to take down the painting, Clay indicated he is open to deliberating such a step. The problem, he said, was any lawmaker removing it unilaterally.

Clay said there are statues of Confederate leaders like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee in the Capitol complex that he finds "deeply offensive," but he hasn't tried to remove them himself.

"I don’t mind the Speaker’s office following a process. If there’s a process to remove this painting, well, let’s start the process. And let’s discuss it," Clay said. "But you just don’t walk up here and remove a painting because you are offended by it."

Clay represents the town of Ferguson, Mo., where a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in 2014, sparking nationwide protests against police brutality. He said the controversy of the painting belies a larger problem lawmakers should be discussing instead.

"Historically, the African-American community has had a painful, tortured history with law enforcement in this country," Clay said. "The larger, much more fundamental question is, why does this young artist feel this way? And what can we do as leaders of a compassionate and just nation to remedy that?"

Hunter, an Iraq War veteran and one of the first Republicans to endorse President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMeet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Avenatti denies domestic violence allegations: 'I have never struck a woman' Trump names handbag designer as ambassador to South Africa MORE, has also drawn headlines in recent days on ethics issues.

He was among the lawmakers who wanted to curtail the independent Office of Congressional Ethics last week, an effort that House Republicans eventually abandoned following a public outcry. 

Hunter was the subject of an OCE investigation that found, among other things, he had used $600 in campaign funds for his pet rabbit’s airfare. The California Republican has reimbursed his campaign about $62,000 in total for personal expenses highlighted by OCE, the Federal Election Commission and the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Hunter has blamed similarly colored credit cards for mistakenly billing his campaign the personal expenses. 

Scott Wong contributed.

This story as updated at 4:30 p.m.