In a disturbing incident that took place on Wednesday night, freshman Republican lawmaker Rep. Derrick Van Orden from Wisconsin has come under bipartisan condemnation for his alleged aggressive behavior towards a group of high-school-age Senate pages at the Capitol Rotunda. New details shared with NBC News have shed light on the troubling encounter.
According to a witness who spoke on condition of anonymity, Rep. Van Orden confronted the teenagers and reportedly yelled at them to “get the f— out” of the rotunda. The source described Van Orden’s demeanor as physically aggressive, with the lawmaker screaming inches from the pages’ faces and shooing them away with his hands several times.
The Senate pages were part of a prestigious tradition dating back to 1829 and were enjoying their last week on the job. Following a long shift, the group decided to take advantage of the typically empty rotunda at night to admire the Capitol sights. At that time, Rep. Van Orden, who had been hosting a beer and cheese event with constituents, approached the teenagers.
The pages were lying on the rotunda floor, taking photos of the exquisite dome, as per a Senate page tradition, when Van Orden, leading a large tour group, confronted them. He allegedly called the pages “jackasses” and “pieces of s—,” as documented in a transcript written by a page minutes after the incident and first reported by The Hill.
“I don’t give a f— who you are. I’m a congressman. My name is Derrick Van Orden, and I represent the 3rd District of Wisconsin,” the former Navy Seal reportedly shouted at the group, using profanity and derogatory language multiple times. The pages, aged 16 and 17, were visibly shaken after the encounter.
Upon reaching out for comment regarding the allegations, Van Orden’s office shared a statement that did not dispute the account but instead emphasized the significance of the Capitol Rotunda as a symbol of sacrifice and history.
The U.S. Senate Page Program, which offers high school students from across the nation the opportunity to work on the Senate floor, has been highly praised by lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Several senators have expressed support for the pages and condemned Van Orden’s behavior, with Sen. Thom Tillis calling for an apology from the congressman.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, however, defended Van Orden, suggesting that the incident may have been a misunderstanding. He spoke of the practice of the interns lying down, hinting that it might be related to the confrontation. Other lawmakers, such as Rep. Chip Roy, made light of the situation, seemingly downplaying the seriousness of the incident.
— Chip Roy (@chiproytx) July 28, 2023