Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. July 30, 2023.
Editorial: An apology is in order
Rep. Derrick Van Orden owes Senate pages an apology.
Van Orden came across the pages while they were taking a tour of the Capitol. Some were laying on the floor of the rotunda to get pictures of the dome. Accounts say he yelled at the pages, who are high-schoolers, called them lazy and used profanity while demanding they get off the floor.
Van Orden’s outburst drew an entirely predictable rebuke from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. More surprising was that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joined in, saying “everybody on this side of the aisle feels exactly the same way.”
As a member of the House, we suspect Van Orden is fully aware of the role pages play in the functioning of our national Legislature. Many people probably aren’t. The program brings high school students from across the nation to work with legislators. Pages deliver correspondence and legislative material to congressional members’ offices. They prepare the chambers for sessions and work on the floor to assist during votes. They support members during debates, delivering amendments and bills for consideration.
The Senate’s page program website says pages “are expected to demonstrate maturity, personal responsibility, and time management skills. They maintain a rigorous schedule, including early mornings and late nights. Pages are employees of the Sergeant at Arms and are required to abide by policies and expectations established for all employees. Additionally, pages must abide by a strict code of conduct and guidelines established by the Page Program.”
There are only 30 Senate pages. They make what, for teens, is a considerable sacrifice: “Pages do not have access to their cell phones except for weekend travel and vacations; phones are provided for pages so that they may stay in touch with their families and friends.”
Senate pages’ days begin with school at 6 a.m. They have to be at work an hour before the Senate comes into session or 10 a.m., whichever is earlier. Half get off work at 6 p.m. The other half? Depends on when the Senate adjourns.
Does any of that sound lazy?
Van Orden’s initial reaction was to point out that the rotunda was used as a field hospital during the Civil War and tell the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel it would be “terribly disrespectful to lay on the grave of a soldier who died fighting for freedom.”
He’s right on both points. The rotunda was used as a field hospital. We would join him condemning anyone lying atop a soldier’s grave in such a manner. But that defense misses a critical point: The rotunda was a field hospital, not a graveyard.
A later statement to the Journal Sentinel said the Capitol “should never be treated like a frat house common room.” Again, that’s a fair point. And, again, there’s a significant flaw in the argument. The rotunda is unambiguously a work of art. We know of precious few frat houses with ceilings worthy of a photo.
Had Van Orden asked what the teens were doing, that would have been an appropriate way to handle the situation. That’s true even if he asked in sharp tones. The sight of people lying on the floor of the rotunda is certainly one that would take people off guard, perhaps denting the normal decorum such surroundings require.
There were cues that should have alerted Van Orden to the fact this wasn’t a normal group of teens on a visit. Accounts say it was a “late-night tour.” Getting into the Capitol at such a time requires being granted access outside the normal channels for visitation.
Directing profane insults at any group is beneath the dignity of a member of Congress. Doing so to students who have worked hard to keep the Senate running was unacceptable. Van Orden owes the pages an apology.