Sensenbrenner to Pocan: “SOTU is No Venue for Cheap Political Points”

The Dean of the Wisconsin congressional delegation is not pleased with the antics of its most junior Democratic member.

As previously reported by Media Trackers, Madison Democrat Mark Pocan intends to use his one invite to the annual State of the Union Address as a way to troll Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Janesville). This blatant political stunt has now drawn the ire of Menomonee Falls Republican Jim Sensenbrenner who has called out Pocan for his immaturity.

In a Monday press release, Sensenbrenner urges Pocan to reconsider his invitation to Bryce, using it as a call for civility. Will Pocan heed that call? Unlikely, as Bryce is already using the invite to fund raise and Pocan has been uncharacteristically silent since news of the invite was made public.

From Sensenbrenners’ statement:

Tomorrow(Tuesday), President Trump will deliver his first State of the Union address; a historic event that will capture the attention of our nation. The commander in chief is given this opportunity to present his priorities for America’s future. The founders recognized this important function by including it in the US Constitution.


As the President addresses the American people, he does so from the House Chamber, a place rich with history. Members of Congress are afforded the opportunity to invite a guest to join them at the speech. These special guests are seated in the House Gallery to witness the speech. Often the opportunity goes to a constituent or a family member, or even a lucky staffer. Members take great care in deciding who receives this guest ticket.


It is not a venue to score cheap political points.


Unfortunately, in a disheartening attempt to cash in on Speaker Paul Ryan’s prominent role in American government, Congressman Mark Pocan has invited Randy Bryce, Speaker Ryan’s Democrat opponent, to be his guest.


This is an attempt to sow political discourse and deepen a divide in an already fractured political environment. Creating a spectacle like this – regardless of position or party – is disrespectful and out of bounds. Worse, Mr. Bryce is using it as a tool to actively raise campaign funds.


As the Dean of the Wisconsin Congressional Delegation, I expect my colleagues to maintain Wisconsin values and treat each other with respect, civility, and deference. Unfortunately, Congressman Pocan has already disrespected Speaker Ryan by holding town hall meetings in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, a District in which he was not elected.

While Pocan, Bryce, and other liberals might be laughing now at this act of political trolling, the last laugh may well be against Bryce and Pocan themselves.

House rules dictate that any activities held in the chamber cannot be used for purely political purposes. As it is well noted, the State of the Union is done in the House chambers, making any campaigning Bryce may do – including using his presence there to fund raise – a potential ethics violation.

Here’s what page 127 of the House Ethics Manual states about campaigning in the House Chambers:

House Buildings, and House Rooms and Offices.
The House buildings, and House rooms and offices – including district offices – are supported with official funds and hence are considered official resources. Accordingly, as a general rule, they may not be used for the conduct of campaign or political activities.
For example, a Member may not film a campaign commercial or have campaign photos taken in a congressional office. For rules on filming and taking of photos on grounds near the Capitol, the office of the Sergeant at Arms should be contacted.
In addition, House rooms and offices are not to be used for events that are campaign or political in nature, such as a meeting on campaign strategy, or a reception for campaign contributors. However, under long-standing Committee policy, when a Member is sworn in, the Member may hold a ―swearing-in reception in a House office building that is paid for with campaign funds. A criminal statute that prohibits the solicitation of campaign contributions in any House building, room, or office is discussed below in this chapter, in the section on solicitation of contributions.

Nothing related to what Bryce is doing appears to fit under these guidelines. And since it was Pocan who invited him in the first place, there is a likelihood this little stunt could backfire on the Madison congressman. Will it? Who knows, but with Bryce already facing one ethics violation for his failure to turn in his financial disclosure form on a timely basis, he might not even know he’s staring down the barrel of a second one.

AP reported that Bryce is also airing a television ad prior to the speech hitting Ryan for working with Trump on passing the federal tax overhaul. According to AP, Bryce is spending just over $3,000 to run the ad in Wisconsin on MSNBC and CNN. But he’s also spending $500 for it to run on MSNBC in Seattle and $1,000 in San Francisco, according to Advertising Analytics.

Bryce faces off in a Democratic primary against Janesville teacher Cathy Myers in August.