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Rep. Derrick Van Orden, a freshman Republican from Wisconsin, said he was enraged after witnessing a group of high school-age Senate pages “defiling” the Capitol and treating the building like a “frat house common room.”
What were the teenagers exactly doing? Briefly lying on the floor to snap photos of the historic Rotunda dome.
On Wednesday night, Senate pages, who help assist day-to-day operations at the Capitol, were touring the Capitol as part of their last week of service, Punchbowl News first reported. To capture a photo of the ceiling, some pages positioned themselves and their camera on the floor. That’s when Van Orden walked in.
According to a transcript written by one of the pages and obtained by The Hill, Van Orden said, “Wake the f‑‑‑ up you little s‑‑‑‑” and “Get the f‑‑‑ out of here. You are defiling the space.” He reportedly also called the teenagers “jackasses” and “lazy s—-.”
Since the incident, the congressman has refused to apologize for his outburst — insisting that he was protecting the integrity of the Capitol Rotunda.
“I have long said our nation’s Capitol is a symbol of the sacrifice our servicemen and women have made for this country and should never be treated like a frat house common room,” Van Orden said in a statement.
Maddy Pritzl, a former Senate page, defended the teenagers and clarified that it was a years-long tradition.
Every single Senate Page has taken midnight photos on the Rotunda floor at some point. I did it in 2016—it’s tradition!
— Maddy Pritzl (@pritzlmaddy) July 27, 2023
Senior members of Congress say the freshman needs a lesson on manners
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he was disturbed by Van Orden’s behavior and his lack of remorse.
“I understand that late last night a member of the House majority thought it appropriate to curse at some of these young people,” Schumer said Thursday on the Senate floor. “I was shocked when I heard about it. I am further shocked at his refusal to apologize.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., agreed with Schumer, adding “everybody on this side of the aisle feels exactly the same way.” Both Schumer and McConnell also took time to thank the Senate pages.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters Friday that the incident was possibly a “misunderstanding” — adding that he planned to call Van Orden later that day. McCarthy’s team did not immediately respond to NPR’s request for an update on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican from Texas, poked fun at Van Orden’s outburst by imitating the position that the Senate pages reportedly were rebuked for.
Van Orden is known for having a short fuse. In 2021, while running for office, he was accused of threatening a 17-year-old Wisconsin library staffer over a display of children’s books in honor of Pride Month, the Associated Press reported.