Rep. Clay implores Ryan to keep cops painting in Capitol complex

Rep. Clay implores Ryan to keep cops painting in Capitol complex
© Greg Nash

Removing a constituent’s painting depicting tensions between African-Americans and police would violate constitutional freedom of expression, Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) warned Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDemocratic anger rises over Trump obstacles to Biden transition Feehery: A possible House Speaker conundrum for Democrats McCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments MORE (R-Wis.) on Wednesday.

The painting, by high school student David Pulphus, has heightened tensions between the two parties after multiple GOP lawmakers personally removed it three times from a highly trafficked passageway connecting the Capitol and two House buildings.

Clay, along with freshman Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a former constitutional law professor, wrote a letter to Ryan hours after Rep. Dave ReichertDavid (Dave) George ReichertRep. Kim Schrier defends Washington House seat from GOP challenger Washington Rep. Kim Schrier wins primary Mail ballot surge places Postal Service under spotlight MORE (R-Wash.) asked the Architect of the Capitol to review whether the painting violated the art competition’s rules and should be removed.


“In America we don’t arrest artwork,” Clay and Raskin wrote. “Stripping it from the competition under the guise of protecting ‘decorum’ is an obvious pretext for violating Mr. Pulphus’s freedom of expression as an American.”

They accused House Republicans of "political correctness" in trying to censor a message they disagree with.

“At a time when our democracy and freedoms are under real attack by Vladimir Putin and Russian agents, this outburst of grown-up political correctness toward the artwork of an adolescent seems, frankly, absurd.”

Republicans have been motivated by law enforcement organizations offended by the painting’s portrayal of two police officers as animals resembling feral pigs.

The painting had been displayed in the Capitol complex since June after it won a prize in an annual high school student art competition, but conservative media outlets and lawmakers only took notice in recent weeks.

Reichert argued that the painting violated the art competition’s rules against submissions “depicting subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature.”

Clay's district in Missouri includes Ferguson, where a white police officer shot an unarmed black teenager in 2014 that sparked nationwide protests.

The painting's commentary on Ferguson and similar episodes of police brutality toward African Americans amounted to a "contemporary political controversy," Reichert said.

Clay and Raskin countered that the Congressional Art Competition greenlighted the painting’s display six months ago without any objection until now.

“Please don’t undermine the Congressional Art Competition or violate the First Amendment in this way. In America, if you don’t like a painting you see in a display, you simply move on to the next one. You don’t take it down,” Clay and Raskin wrote.