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Nevada House lawmakers didn’t attend Constitution recital

WASHINGTON — As promised by new Republican leaders, the U.S. Constitution was read aloud Thursday in the House of Representatives.

None of Nevada’s three House lawmakers participated in the 90-minute exercise, nor attended as observers.

The reading was conducted by 135 volunteers — 63 Democrats and 72 Republicans. A few dozen others sat in the chamber during all or part of the event.

In a nod to Tea Party-backed candidates who had campaigned on adherence to the Constitution, Republicans touted the reading of the document as setting the tone for a congressional session that would be mindful of its limits on federal power.

Some Democrats regarded the exercise as political theater, including Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who said she spent the time in her office working on upcoming employment legislation.

"It’s far more important to me to fulfill my obligations under the Constitution rather than reading aloud a document I’m very familiar with," Berkley said. "I don’t begrudge or condemn anybody who participated in the reading, and if our fellow Americans enjoyed listening to it, then so much the better."

Republican Rep. Dean Heller "was in a Ways and Means organizational meeting all morning and had constituent meetings after," spokesman Stewart Bybee said. "Although he would like to have participated in the reading, he was unable to."

Republican Rep. Joe Heck "was in meetings all morning long," said spokesman Darren Littell, adding it was Heck’s first full day on the job after his swearing-in and opening-day ceremonies on Wednesday.

"Joe does think it’s important to read the Constitution and he supports it, but he was busy working for the people of Nevada to help them get their jobs back," Littell said.

The recital of the Constitution, coming on the second day of the new session, was conducted calmly, except for one brief outbreak from a protester in the visitors gallery.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., read the section that set out the eligibility requirements for the presidency. As Pallone read the words "no person, except a natural-born citizen, or a citizen of the United States," a woman yelled out "except Obama, except Obama!" The presiding officer asked that she be thrown out, and she was. Police later said Theresa Cao, 48, of New York was charged with unlawful conduct and disruption of Congress.

Before the reading started, Democrats made their own protest, asking why Republicans chose to omit sections, including those pertaining to slavery, that were later amended.

The Democrats asked about the Article I, Section 2 clause, which classified slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of congressional apportionment and taxation.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., asked why those elements of American history were being left out, "given the struggle of African-Americans, given the struggle of women."

The reading also skipped the 18th Amendment, which was ratified in 1919 to institute prohibition of alcohol. That amendment was overturned in 1933 by the 21st Amendment.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who organized the reading, said he and others had worked with the Library of Congress and the Congressional Research Service in coming up with the most accurate presentation of the Constitution.

He told Jackson, son of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, that another pioneer of the civil rights movement, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., had been asked to read the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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