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WASHINGTON -- Two House Republicans have cast votes as members of the 112th Congress, but were not sworn in on Wednesday, a violation of the Constitution on the same day that the GOP had the document read from the podium.
The Republicans, incumbent Pete Sessions of Texas and freshman Mike Fitzpatrick, missed the swearing in because they were at a fundraiser in the Capitol Visitors Center. The pair watched the swearing-in on television from the Capitol Visitors Center with their hands raised.
"That wasn't planned. It just worked out that way," said Fitzpatrick at the time, according to local press on hand, which noted that he "happened to be introducing Texas Congressman Pete Sessions while glad-handing his supporters in the Capitol Visitor Center that he secured for them when the House swearing in began."
House ethics rules forbid fundraising in the Capitol.
The Bucks County Courier Times said that roughly 500 Fitzpatrick supporters were on hand at the gathering. Fitzpatrick's campaign had solicited contributions for a bus trip to the Capitol and "Mike Fitzpatrick's Swearing In Celebration."
Sessions is head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, responsible for fundraising for GOP candidates.
There is no provision in the Constitution for a remote swearing-in by television. On Thursday, Fitzpatrick was one of the members who read the Constitution from the dais. He would have been on hand to hear the section he violated read aloud: "Article VI, Paragraph 3: The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
On Thursday, the Rules Committee adjourned because Sessions had made a motion to open proceedings to begin considering the GOP bill to repeal health care reform - an action that can only be taken by an official member of Congress.
Emily Davis, a spokeswoman for Sessions, said that Sessions rectified the situation Thursday afternoon, after it came to his attention that he had not been properly sworn in. "During the swearing in of the 112th Congress, Congressman Sessions stated the oath publicly in the Capitol but was not on the House floor. To ensure that all constitutional and House requirements are fulfilled, Congressman Sessions officially took the oath of office this afternoon from the House floor. Public records and votes will be adjusted accordingly," she said.
This is not Fitzpatrick's first rodeo: he served one previous term in Congress, before being beaten in 2006 by Democrat Patrick Murphy.
"Yesterday, at the time the oath of office was administered, Congressman Fitzpatrick was in the Capitol Building meeting with constituents from Pennsylvania's 8th Congressional District," Fitzpatrick spokesman Darren Smith said. "He took the oath of office at that time. When the oath was administered, Congressman Fitzpatrick had already signed the written oath of office provided by the Clerk of the House. Today, after speaking with the House Parliamentarian, out of an abundance of caution, Congressman Fitzpatrick was re-administered the oath of office by the Speaker. The public record will be adjusted accordingly."
Elise Foley contributed reporting
UPDATE: Fitzpatrick spokesman Darren Smith insists that the event was not a fundraiser. "Some people paid $30 to cover the cost of bus transportation to Washington. The reception was open to anyone who showed up, including over a hundred people who drove down on their own," he said of the 500-person event.
A document outlining official allowable uses of Capitol Visitor Center space confirms that fundraisers are off limits. "Visitor Center space may not be used for any fund-raising purpose," it reads on page four, with the underlining in the original. The title of the event -- "Mike Fitzpatrick's Swearing In Celebration" -- makes it clear that the event in question is the celebration of the swearing-in at the Capitol, not the bus trip. The invitation asks for a minimum of $30 but allows the contributor to give more. "Federal Law requires us to report the name, mailing address, occupation, and name of employer for each individual whose contributions aggregate in excess of $200 in an election cycle," reads the invite, indicating that it was indeed a campaign event.
"Visitor Center space may not be used for political activities, including political campaign, political party, or political action committee activities," reads the rules.