There was news last week about a veterans hospital in Florida that had empty picture frames on the wall where a portrait of the current President is supposed to be. So Brian Mast, a Republican Congressman from the same district, as well as a patient at the hospital, after hearing a few complaints from constituents about the empty frames, took it upon himself to do something about it, without any intention of violating any laws or causing a stir.
Mast, in addition to being a politician, is also a soldier who lost both his legs in an IED explosion in Afghanistan. He acquired portraits of President Trump and Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, took them down to the VA hospital and had a maintenance man help put the portraits into the empty frames. Mast had only intended it to be a stop-gap move until the “official” Trump photos were distributed — just placeholders until the new ones arrived.
They took them down.
“I left and the leadership had the portraits removed,” the Republican told Fox News. Apparently, an “unidentified bureaucrat” said something to the effect of, “Trump is not our President.”
CBS 12 News said when they talked to officials from the hospital later, CBS 12 News was told that the pictures were “not appropriate” and that they needed to be approved by the “central office.” They hadn’t received the new ones yet. That was partially true. The new ones had not yet been distributed. But the reporter from CBS 12 contacted the appropriate authorities, who said it was fine to use the pictures temporarily until the new one comes.
From Tradition to Law
Tradition of displaying portraits of the President was started by Dolly Madison. According to tradition, a portrait of the sitting President of the United States has been on display since Dolly Madison saved the portrait of George Washington in 1812, when the White House was torched during the war. This tradition has continued with portraits of sitting presidents hanging in more than 7,000 U.S. government buildings around the world.
These days, the practice has become law, and the U.S. Government Publishing Office is in charge of printing and distributing the pictures to be hung in all federal installations around the world. Part of the reason for all the empty frames is that, as a matter of law, all portraits from the previous administration be taken down by 12:01 p.m. Jan. 20, when the new president takes over. So they keep the frames until they receive new portraits in late February or early March and then hang them.
Illegal Tampering with Portraits
This year, with the never-Trumpers in the mix, things promise to be, at minimum, interesting. There are reports from multiple sources that some federal offices have been putting up memes of President Trump in the empty frames. But anyone who is considering this as an opportunity for a little civil disobedience should probably think again. Once the new portraits have been distributed, it will be against the law to tamper with them.