WASHINGTON In an unusual public reprimand, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi chastised Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington for omitting the words "under God" while leading the House in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
"All House Democrats expect the Pledge of Allegiance to be delivered as it is written with the phrase 'under God' and with respect for the pledge," Pelosi said yesterday, adding that she summoned McDermott to her office on April 28 to express her displeasure privately.
It is unusual for the leader of a political party to publicly chastise a member of the party's rank-and-file, but Pelosi spoke bluntly. "What I am saying to you is, I completely disagree with that presentation. I have made my view and the view of the House Democrats known to Congressman McDermott, and I don't think you will ever see again a presentation on the floor that will exclude the words 'under God,'" the California Democrat said.
Lawmakers take turns leading members of the House in the pledge at the beginning of each floor session, and on April 27 it was McDermott's turn.
Several hours after he did so, Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, stood on the floor and accused McDermott of "embarrassing the House and disparaging the majority of Americans who share the values expressed in the pledge."
"He and those like him stand more for the liberal left than they do for our friends and neighbors," Sessions said. McDermott, serving his eighth term from the Seattle area, has a solid liberal voting record.
McDermott's spokesman, Mike DeCesare, said the lawmaker had made a mistake. He said the 67-year-old congressman learned the pledge without the phrase "under God." The words were added in 1954.
DeCesare added that McDermott was unsure whether to include the words at a time when the Supreme Court is reviewing a lower court ruling that recitation of the pledge in public schools is unconstitutional because of its reference to God.
"Today he says, 'I should have said it,' because the pledge has been amended and in the future he will do that," DeCesare said. "Basically it was the wrong time to have a question in your thoughts."