Congressman reportedly cursed out Senate pages from Capitol Rotunda
Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-Wis.) reportedly scolded a group of Senate pages late Wednesday evening, using expletives to curse out the teenagers because they were lying on the floor of the Capitol Rotunda.
According to Punchbowl News, Van Orden was giving a tour “for several dozen visitors around midnight” when he saw the pages lying on the floor in the Rotunda and taking photos because it was their final week as pages. Van Orden called the pages “lazy s—-” and told them to “get the f— up” off the floor, sources told the outlet.
Senate pages are typically high school students who have a number of responsibilities assisting with the day-to-day operations at the Capitol, including shuttling material within the halls of Congress and acting as support staff. When the Senate continues its work late into the night, as it did Wednesday evening, pages are known to rest in the Rotunda — which is midway between the House and Senate chambers.
Van Orden, a freshman, did not deny that he admonished the pages, saying in a statement to The Washington Post that the Rotunda ought to be treated with respect because of its historical significance tending to Union soldiers as a field hospital during the Civil War.
“The Capitol Rotunda served as a field hospital where countless Union soldiers died fighting to free men in the Civil War. I have long said our nation’s Capitol is a symbol of the sacrifice our servicemen and women have made for this country and should never be treated like a frat house common room,” Van Orden said in the statement. “Threatening a congressman with bad press to excuse poor behavior is a reminder of everything that’s wrong with Washington. Luckily, bad press has never bothered me and if it’s the price I pay to stand up for what’s right, then so be it.”
The lawmaker’s communications director, Anna Kelly, also sought to provide additional context after a photo circulated of Van Orden’s Capitol Hill office, appearing to show several empty bottles of alcohol in the trash and on a desk shortly before the incident with the pages allegedly occurred.
Kelly shared a tweet with The Post, which said the congressman “regularly hosts beer and cheese tours with constituents. The congressman hosted roughly 50 constituents and visitors yesterday before a private tour of the Capitol.”
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) addressed the incident during remarks on the Senate floor Thursday evening.
“The pages can help make this place run smoothly. They’re here when we need them, and they have served this institution with grace. However, I understand that late last night a member of the House majority thought it appropriate to curse at some of these young people, these teenagers, in the Rotunda,” Schumer said, adding that he was both shocked to hear about the incident and shocked to hear that Van Orden refused to apologize.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also said on the floor that he agreed with Schumer’s comments and that “everybody on this side of the aisle feels exactly the same way.”
Schumer later told reporters that both he and McConnell spoke to the Senate pages Thursday night. The majority leader called Van Orden “utterly despicable” and called him “a terrible outlier.”
It’s not the first time Van Orden has been accused of a public outburst.
In 2021, Kerrigan Trautsch, then a 17-year-old page at the Prairie du Chien Memorial Library in Wisconsin, told the La Crosse Tribune that Van Orden was angry and complained loudly about a display of books in the children’s section of the library curated for LGBTQ+ Pride Month. Trautsch told the Tribune that after the incident she told her parents she didn’t feel safe at work anymore. Van Orden at the time responded by saying he supported equal rights for all Americans, including those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Van Orden, a former Navy SEAL with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, took office in January, replacing Rep. Ron Kind (D). Van Orden’s presence at the “Save America” rally in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, was a major issue brought up by his Democratic opponent, Brad Pfaff, on the campaign trail. Van Orden has claimed that he never went on the Capitol grounds. However, a photo published six months later by the Daily Beast appeared to show he was there. Van Orden has not questioned the authenticity of the photo or that it was taken on Jan. 6.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has sought to make Senate page classes more inclusive and diverse. In a Teen Vogue feature about Senate pages published earlier this year, every former page interviewed for the piece said Booker was the senator who “went out of his way to make them feel welcome by engaging them.”
Asked for Booker’s response to the alleged incident involving Van Orden, the senator’s office responded with a tweet, which included a semi-blurry selfie of the New Jersey lawmaker and a group of pages.
“Grateful every day to our Senate pages! These incredible young people are a vital part of our democracy.”
Leigh Ann Caldwell and Michael Kranish contributed to this report.