Julia Conley, Common Dreams
U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins on Wednesday grabbed a man who was asking questions at a press conference and repeatedly told him, “You’re out” as he pushed him away from the event, sparking some calls for assault charges against the Republican congressman.
Jake Burdett, a progressive activist, went to Capitol Hill to attend a press conference regarding Medicare for All legislation that was unveiled Wednesday, and noticed Higgins setting up for a separate news event along with Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.).
“I figured I’d ask them some tough questions,” Burdett told The Daily Beast. “Bird-dog them, whatever you want to call it.”
He began filming the press conference and was asking Gosar questions when Higgins approached him. The congressman first asked Burdett to “just peacefully stand by with your camera” and wait for the event to conclude, after which Higgins promised to answer his questions.
When Burdett began asking another question of Boebert, Higgins approached Burdett again and said, “No, you’re out” and he gripped the 25-year-old’s arms and began forcing him away from the event.
Kristy Fogle, founder of the Maryland Progressive Healthcare Coalition, filmed the attack and posted it on Twitter, asking, “Pushing an activist for asking tough questions is supposed to be normal?”
— Kristy Fogle PA-C (@kristyfoglePAC) May 17, 2023
“We are Maryland political activists. It’s not uncommon for us to come to D.C. and attempt to ask hard questions to Republicans AND Democrats,” said Fogle. “But, I’ve never seen a representative behave this aggressively.”
While Higgins was pushing him during the roughly 30-second altercation, Burdett said, “Aren’t you a congressperson, touching me? Get off me!” while others in the crowd exclaimed, “This is assault!”
Capitol Police arrived at the scene shortly after Higgins pushed Burdett toward the street. They questioned Burdett for approximately half an hour and then said he was free to leave.
Higgins told KATC, an ABC affiliate in Lafayette, Louisiana, that Burdett caused a “103M,” using the Capitol Police code for “disturbance by mental person,” and said the activist was simply “escorted out and turned over to Capitol Police.”
Critics who saw the video said Higgins’ use of physical force to remove Burdett from the event was “absurd” and should result in charges for the congressman.
“Republican Congressman Clay Higgins assaults citizen who dared ask him a question,” said Kaivan Shroff, an attorney and political commentator. “Barely makes the news. Insane.”
Burdett told The Daily Beast the incident didn’t physically harm him, but left him “scared, intimidated, powerless, [and] defenseless,” and wondering, “Who do I think the cops are going to crack down on: me, or the congressperson?”
“It’s one thing for anybody to do that,” he said. “But for a sitting U.S. congressperson to think that that’s okay—it just shows an extra level of entitlement, that they feel they’re untouchable and the law doesn’t apply to them.”
Fogle added that an assault on a citizen by a progressive or Democratic member of Congress would likely be loudly condemned by conservatives, and would not go unpunished.
Burdett told The Daily Beast he was “evaluating” his legal options.
“If it looks like there is a strong case for assault and [there is] an attorney willing to take on the case,” he said, “I am absolutely prepared to press charges.”
Higgins drew condemnation from Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) last year when he yelled at an expert witness in a House Oversight Committee hearing on environmental injustice, addressing Raya Salter, the founder and executive director of the Energy Justice Law and Policy Center, as “boo” and “young lady.”
In 2020, Higgins threatened to shoot Black Lives Matters protesters in a Facebook post that he later deleted.