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January 6, 2011 at 11:43 AM

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Inslee to GOP: Just which version of Constitution being read?

Posted by Kyung M. Song

Updated at 2:15 p.m. with comments from Rep. Jay Inslee:

WASHINGTON -- Just before Republicans got ready to begin reciting the U.S. Constitution aloud on the House floor Thursday morning, U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee raised a simple, but loaded, question: Just which version were they planning to read?

That sparked several minutes of testiness in the chamber as Inslee repeatedly pressed the GOP on exactly which parts of the Constitution would be read and which left out -- such as the reference to slaves counting as three-fifth of a free person in determining representation in the U.S. House.

"Will we be reading the entire original document without deletions?" Inslee kept asking, with all apparent equanimity.

The Bainbridge Island Democrat presumably knew that the Republicans had decided beforehand that they would not read portions of the Constitution that were subsequently changed. Inslee's spokesman, Robert Kellar, said Inslee was trying to make the same point made by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., who argued on the floor Thursday that reading the amended version of the Constitution would gloss over the struggles by blacks and women for equality.

The reading was part of a political theater designed to highlight complaints, foremost from tea party members, that Congress is expanding its powers beyond those permitted under the Constitution. That includes conservatives' contention that requiring all Americans to eventually carry health coverage, as mandated under health-care reform, is unconstitutional.

Inslee said he raised questions so as to ensure an accurate historical record of what was being read. He said the edited, redacted and incomplete version read Thursday should be recognized as exactly that. His questions, Inslee said, were not intended to imply that the Republicans were planning to recite a sanitized version of the "grand document."

Inslee said he was honored to participate in the reading and called the 90-minute exercise a good civics lesson.

"The Constitution is the most important document in the world," Inslee said. "I treat it with extreme care."

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