Congress

Painting depicting police officers as pigs turns into Capitol Hill hot potato

This painting by David Pulphus, Untitled #1, was chosen to hang in the Capitol as part of the Congressional Arts Competition.
This painting by David Pulphus, Untitled #1, was chosen to hang in the Capitol as part of the Congressional Arts Competition. AP

This week, Congress is busy confirming Donald Trump’s Cabinet appointees, plotting how to overturn Obamacare and appointing powerful committee chairs.

But some members of the House of Representatives have spent time taking down and putting back up a painting that has become the latest flashpoint in the nationwide debate over police brutality.

The painting depicts police officers as pigs, and has set off a flurry of partisan rancor in the tunnel connecting House office buildings to the Capitol.

The painting was created by 18-year-old David Pulphus as part of an annual congressional art competition and belongs to the office of Democratic Rep. Lacy Clay of Missouri. It was displayed for months before police groups began complaining that the artwork is offensive.

Clay’s Congressional district includes Ferguson, Missouri, where the police shooting of Michael Brown sparked national outrage in 2014.

Last week California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter took matters into his own hands, removing the painting and taking it back to Clay’s office.

The Congressional Black Caucus, a group that includes Clay, put the painting back up on Tuesday morning, but it didn’t stay up for long.

Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn took the painting down Tuesday afternoon. Clay put it back up.

Then, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California took it down again, declaring it an “insult to all police.”

Clay put it back early Tuesday evening, where it stood as members trudged to the Capitol for the latest series of votes.

The painting, and ensuing media stakeout in a tunnel, prompted amusement from some members of Congress as they walked by.

“This kid’s going to be one of the most famous artists in America,” remarked Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley of New York as he walked by. “He’s going to make millions of dollars.”

Republican Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon looked perplexed as he walked by before realizing that the painting was just off to his right.

“Oh, that’s what you’re here for,” Walden said to reporters with a laugh as he walked by.

“I guess it’s back,” said Virginia Democrat Bobby Scott with a smile.

Other members of both parties, notably Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a former civil rights leader, appeared serious as they walked by the painting.

Clay referred to the actions of Republicans as “blatant censorship” and intends to take legal action.

It’s unclear whether House leaders or the Capitol Police will take steps to resolve the dispute.

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty

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