This week, the hallowed halls of the Capitol reverberated with something far from the usual legislative chatter. A late-night tour took an unexpected turn when a fresh-faced Republican congressman from Wisconsin, Derrick Van Orden, exchanged heated words with high school-age Senate pages. His actions have ignited a bipartisan reprimand from Senate leaders.
In a series of interviews aired on Wisconsin’s conservative talk radio on Friday, Van Orden neither rejected the reports about his actions nor extended an apology. According to a political newsletter, PunchBowl News, he described the pages with unflattering profanity and curtly ordered them off the Capitol Rotunda floor on Wednesday night.
The pages had been lying down to snap photos within the Rotunda, an act Van Orden deemed disrespectful. “I’m not going to apologize for making sure that anybody — I don’t care who you are and who you’re related to — defiles this House,” he insisted. “It’s not going to happen on my watch.”
Defending his actions, Van Orden explained that he was safeguarding the integrity of the Capitol Rotunda. This significant location had not only served as a field hospital during the Civil War but had also been where deceased presidents had lain in state. The congressman saw the young pages’ actions as “goofing off” and accused Democrats of blowing the matter out of proportion.
In a twist of irony, social media posts from the same night revealed bottles of liquor and beer cans on a desk in Van Orden’s office. The congressman assured his followers on X (formerly known as Twitter) that the alcohol was gifts from constituents.
Van Orden represents Wisconsin’s 3rd District, a largely Republican-leaning territory that includes parts of central, southwestern, and western Wisconsin, along with moderate exurbs of Minnesota’s Twin Cities.
Just before the Senate departed for its August recess, both Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed their disapproval of Van Orden’s behavior, and publicly appreciated the pages. Schumer noted he was “shocked” at the House Republican’s behavior, and expressed even more astonishment at Van Orden’s refusal to apologize.
“They’re here when we need them,” Schumer commended the pages, “and they have served this institution with grace.” McConnell chimed in, affirming his agreement with Schumer’s sentiments.
When asked for his thoughts on McConnell’s reproach, Van Orden played it down, saying, “I don’t know what it was because I honestly have not tracked any of this stuff.” As the fallout continues to unfold, this incident serves as a reminder of the high standards of decorum expected within the Capitol walls.