Paul Ryan: Controversial Capitol Hill painting ‘disgusting’

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House Speaker Paul Ryan weighed in Thursday on a controversial painting hanging in a Capitol Hill tunnel that depicts some police officers as pigs, calling it “disgusting” and “not befitting the Capitol.”

House lawmakers have been squaring off on the artwork, which Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay re-hanged three times Tuesday after several Republican lawmakers pulled it down, criticizing it as being anti-police. The painting by high school student David Pulphus won Clay’s congressional art competition last May.

Ryan, speaking in a radio interview on the Mike Gallagher Show, dismissed questions that removal of the painting restricts the artist’s First Amendment rights.

“This isn’t a question of First Amendment rights. Of course this young person has the right to do something like this wherever they want to,” Ryan said. “But we do have rules that govern these paintings, so it’s not as if you have a constitutional right to hang whatever you want in the House hallway in the Capitol gallery.”

Ryan’s colleague, GOP Rep. Dave Reichert, a former Seattle sheriff, sent a detailed letter to the architect of the Capitol with the rules for Capitol artwork on Wednesday, which does not allow subjects of “contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature.”

Ryan acknowledged that the painting “slipped by” when it was first hung.

“This is not a free-for-all, you know, contest, where anything goes in the Capitol. There are rules that govern this. We see that this does not fit the rules, and so we are processing that decision right now,” the House speaker said.

Asked whether he is confident the painting will ultimately come down, Ryan said, “I am.”

By Betsy Klein