Politics

Trashed American Flag Sparks Capitol Hill Kerfuffle

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast found a U.S. flag in a trash bin that was being used for temporary storage.
U.S. Rep. Brian Mast found a U.S. flag in a trash bin that was being used for temporary storage. Photo by U.S. Rep. Brian Mast
South Florida congressman Brian Mast last week publicly called out his Democratic colleague, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, after finding an American flag in a bin labeled "trash" near her office during a moving project.

Mast, a Republican who represents St. Lucie and Martin counties and a northern section of Palm Beach County, posted a video of the scene on social media on December 8. The footage shows two flags tucked in a grey plastic bin with moving instructions alongside Jackson Lee's name.

The bin is marked "trash," with printed images of half-eaten food and a banana peel.

"So this is a WTF [what the fuck] moment here in the House of Representatives. People are moving offices and this is apparently where Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee keeps her American flag and her [prisoner of war] flag: in the garbage can, in the trash. That's her idea of appropriate for moving the American flag," Mast says in the video.

Jackson Lee responded that the snafu was a "mistake by the house movers that should have been kindly pointed out to them."

"As a re-elected member of congress, you know that office moves are solely handled by the Architect of the Capitol (AOC). You know I had nothing to do with this," Jackson Lee replied to Mast on Twitter.

Jackson Lee's response includes a video of dozens of pieces of displaced furniture in the hallways of a congressional office wing to show the scale of the move. A message she received from the Architect of the Capitol, addressing the controversy, claimed that the bin "is not and has never been a trash receptacle."

Jackson Lee suggested Mast "chose to run to Twitter to lust for retweets like a child," instead of approaching her directly. The congresswoman said the two of them could have worked together to train congressional movers on how to properly store and handle American flags.

Prior to Jackson Lee's response, Mast had posted a message to her, saying, "Anytime you'd like a lesson on flag etiquette, let me know. It's one of the first things we're taught in basic training."
click to enlarge
Photos by Brian Mast and Sheila Jackson Lee

Mast is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, where he lost both legs in a September 2010 explosion. He has represented Florida's 18th District since 2017, having recently beaten out Democratic challenger Corinna Balderramos Robinson by a wide margin in the midterm election.

Mast claims he took the American flag from the trash can and "respectfully stored it" for the movers.

Jackson Lee is a lawyer, former Houston judge, and senior congresswoman for Texas' 18th District. She's represented the district since 1995.

In her response to Mast, Jackson Lee maintained that her office "has always had a great respect for the flag."

"I honor the American flag, the Texas flag, and am one of the few members that has a POW/MIA flag in their office," the congresswoman wrote.

As of Saturday, December 10, the two congress members were still wrangling over the incident. That afternoon Mast wrote back to Jackson Lee: "The fact that our flag was in a trash can for any reason & no one on your team thought to fix it is all I need to know."

Rep. Eric Swalwell of California defended Jackson Lee over the weekend, asking Mast, "Now that the Architect of the Capitol has debunked your childish claim, will you apologize to [Jackson Lee] for smearing her patriotism?"

The controversy came on the heels of the House of Representatives' passing the Respect for Marriage Act, which provides federal protection for same-sex marriages, and the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets the annual budget for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Both Mast and Jackson Lee voted in favor of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Mast flipped to a no vote on the Respect for Marriage Act after supporting the bill over the summer. He said over the weekend that he voted against the marriage-equality measure because Democrats refused to add "amendments to strengthen the bill by protecting... religious liberties."
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Izzy Kapnick is the news editor at Miami New Times. He has worked as a legal news reporter in South Florida since 2008, covering environmental law, white-collar crime, and the healthcare industry.
Contact: Izzy Kapnick

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