Donald Trump’s second State of the Union Address last night provided Democrats in the House and Senate with one of the most important opportunity for a politician: the chance to do a viral own.
Everyone did one: Nancy Pelosi did a sarcastic clap, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did a truly impressive deadpan, and New York senator/presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand heaved a heavy, eye-rolling sigh:
Unfortunately, Gillibrand decided to take her epic viral own moment a step too far, which seemed to run afoul of Congressional ethics rules.
Here’s the section of the House ethics manual in question, which I think Miller is citing because the SOTU took place in the House:
Broadcast coverage and recordings of House floor proceedings may not be used for any political purpose under House Rule 5, clause 2(c)(1). In addition, under House Rule 11, clause 4(b), radio and television tapes and film of any coverage of House committee proceedings may not be used, or made available for use, as partisan political campaign material to promote or oppose the candidacy of any person for public office.
The greater point of this rule makes sense—it’s to keep politicians from abusing their (government funded) staff and resources on (not government funded) political campaigns. But it also feels a bit like not letting an athlete use game footage of themselves to promote their own career. I’m not going to make the case that Gillibrand doing a performative sigh at the SOTU is a highlight of her time in office or anything, but in other contexts it sounds fair to me to let candidates use footage of themselves actually, you know, working, to raise money for future campaigns.
But regardless, that’s not the case! Right now, it’s still a no-no to take C-SPAN clips and slap a fundraising link underneath them, which is exactly what Gillibrand did. As the AP’s Zeke Miller also noted, Rand Paul got in trouble for this back in 2015, violating a similar Senate rule in his presidential campaign kickoff video. Per Time’s reporting on Paul’s mishap, the punishment for this is usually just having to delete or retract the offending tweet/video, so it’s unlikely Gillibrand will face any real consequences other than looking dumb. But damn. Looks like the one who did the own has, in turn, become the owned.
Clarification, 11:55 a.m.: This post has been updated to clarify that even though Gillibrand is not a member of the House, Miller and this post cited House ethics rules because the SOTU took place in the House chamber.