Democratic New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries scolded former NFL player and freshman Republican Utah Congressman Burgess Owens on Thursday for “lecturing” about patriotism—after the latter voted to overturn the election results in the wake the January 6 Capitol riot.
During an address at the organizing meeting for the House Committee on the Judiciary, Owens called for unity and asked the committee to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Following Owens call to recite the Pledge, Jeffries fired back at the Utah congressman. The New York representative criticized the gesture, pointing out the violent actions that rioters took when they stormed the Capitol on January 6 as Congress was certifying the election results.
Jeffries also pointed out Capitol police who were injured and killed in the riot.
“I was hoping to engage with the new distinguished gentleman from Utah, as he sat here lecturing us about patriotism, and I was just going to ask him how he voted after a violent mob attacked the Capitol to hunt down members of Congress, to hang Mike Pence, to assassinate Nancy Pelosi, to stop us from undertaking our constitutional responsibilities as part of the peaceful transfer of power,” Jeffries said.
Jeffries questioned how Owens could speak about patriotism, while voting against the results of the election. He explained that Democrats worked with former President Donald Trump over the past four years to try to reach a greater good, and questioned whether Owens would do the same.
“And you want to sit here and lecture us about patriotism? When you voted to object to an election that you know Joe Biden won, and perpetrated the big lie?” he asked.
Jeffries continued criticizing Owens, noting that some Republicans had condemned the riot at the Capitol, and compared his vote to overturn the election to Trump taking “no responsibility for anything,” during his presidency.
“You said it was not about words. It’s about actions. Those actions, Mr. Chairman, in my view were unpatriotic. To provide aid and comfort to what Republicans in many parts of the country have characterized as a violent insurrection incited by the former President of the United States of America. You also said that any mistake is not your fault in terms of what’s being taught to others,” Jeffries said.
Before yielding, he continued: “There’s some members on the other side of the aisle, including, perhaps, former NFL players, who defended that kind of irresponsible behavior. So, it’s just hard to be lectured here, given the actions that have been taken, and I would just hope that we’re going to proceed with some measure of truth, decency, and intellectual integrity, as we make our arguments, even though we know we’re going to fiercely disagree, as has been in the past.”
Owens responded to the congressman by pointing to times when Democrats objected to election results. “Was it insurrection when in 2016, seven of your colleagues objected? Was it insurrection for the last three Republican wins—presidential wins that objected? No, it was not. It was a voice. It was having the people realize you have some concerns,” he said, before Jeffries reclaimed his time.
Jeffries responded by noting the extremity of the actions those that invaded the Capitol took, and said that the patriotic thing to do was to stand against it.
“A violent insurrection resulted in the spilling of American blood. People died. The Capitol was desecrated. Urine and feces was left behind. The Confederate flag was bandied about. That didn’t even happen in this Capitol during the Civil War. The Trump flag was placed in the stead of the American flag. That’s an insurrection. That’s sedition. That’s un-Democratic. That’s problematic, and the American thing to do is to stand up to it. I yield back,” he said.
After having more time yielded to him, Owens called for “due process” and spoke out against “mob mentality” and “cancel culture,” before saying he didn’t intend his statements to be construed as a lecture.
“[It] was not a lecture. It’s my background. It’s my passion, and I think we should all be able to agree to disagree,” he said.
On Friday, Owens criticized Democrats for not reciting the Pledge in a tweet. “It’s pretty pathetic, not a single Democrat Rep could be bothered to show 15 seconds of unity and patriotism while reciting our pledge of allegiance. 15 seconds, that’s all @mattgaetz asked for. America deserves better, much better. We owe our constituents more,” he wrote.
On Thursday, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz celebrated Owens’ initial call to stand for the flag, tweeting out the video of his address.
Meanwhile, two of Jeffries’ fellow House Democrats, Gerry Connolly of Virginia and Nikema Williams of Georgia, also praised his response to Owens. Williams wrote that he was “speaking nothing but TRUTH!”
When asked for comment, Jeffries’ office directed Newsweek to the congressman’s Instagram and a press release about the exchange.
“During the first meeting of the House Judiciary Committee in the 117th Congress, freshman Member Burgess Owen (R-Utah) attempted to lecture House Democrats about patriotism. Did he forget about the violent insurrection that resulted from the former president and Congressional Republicans perpetuating the big lie that Joe Biden lost the election?” the press release said.
In an emailed statement received by Newsweek on Saturday, Owens criticized Jeffries’ commentary, believing it to be counterproductive.
“A rant for TV cameras in a committee hearing is not productive or helpful as we try to lower the temperature in Washington. Disagreement is inevitable, but I hope we can at least love our country enough to respect the flag,” the Utah congressman responded.