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Was the photo showing Finstad and McCarthy staged? And why?

Only the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives can swear in a new member.

Brad Finstad Sworn In
As politics has grown more toxic, a new tradition has sprung in which party leaders out of power pretend to give the oath. Rep. Brad Finstad, R-Minnesota, submitted such a photo to the Post Bulletin after his official swearing in by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California.
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Dear Answer Man: Can we get the real story behind the photo showing Congressman Brad Finstad being sworn in by Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy since it was probably staged?

T.J. Jefferson

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Dear T.J.

Let’s just call it a sign of the times.

Yes, it was staged. There was nothing official about it. As to the "real story," it's not hard to imagine. If you are a conservative being sworn into Congress for the first time, you are not going to mark the occasion publicly with you in a photo with Nancy Pelosi, even if she did administer the oath. Finstad, after all, ran on "firing" the speaker.


Instead, the Finstad campaign suggested through its photo an alternative reality.

Last week, fresh off his special election victory over Democrat Jeff Ettinger in Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District race, Finstad was sworn in as the newest member of the U.S. House.

The Finstad campaign later released a photo of Finstad, GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Finstad’s wife, Jackie. It showed Finstad’s right hand raised, left hand on the Bible as if taking the oath. McCarthy’s hand, too, is raised. Jackie, in the middle, is holding the Bible.

If you knew little to nothing how new members of Congress are sworn, you would have sworn that McCarthy was giving the oath. He wasn't.

The Rochester Post Bulletin used the photo Monday with an online political story about the upcoming race between Finstad and Ettinger, but to further avoid giving the impression that the photo represented an official swearing-in, took it down.

Oaths of office are officially and currently administered on the House floor by Speaker Pelosi, the two decade-long nemesis of the GOP.

When it’s the first day of a new Congress, the oath is given en mass. All members rise, raise their hands and recite the oath, said Ilona Nickels, a congressional and public policy expert.

For special elections, like in the Finstad case, the speaker gives the official oath on the House floor with the individual House member.


“It’s a longstanding tradition for all members to then go get their beauty shot for their vanity walls in the Speaker’s ceremonial office just off the floor,” Nickels said. “This isn’t anything particular to Finstad. Everyone does it and has done it for decades. It’s a photo op.”

But no new Member on the Republican side is going to send out that photo.

Thus a relatively newer tradition in which new members have ceremonial photos taken with their party leader (if they are not the party in power) has sprung up. Nickels said the practice has become common “since our political environment has gotten so divisive.”

“Given the toxicity surrounding partisan politics these days, it is totally understandable that Finstad would want a photo with his own party leader, rather than one touting the closeness to Pelosi,” she said.

An email seeking comment from the Finstad campaign was not returned.

Still, it’s one thing to have a picture taken with your party leader. It’s another to send out a photo that gives the impression of a swearing-in conducted by the minority leader.

McCarthy would like nothing better than to be speaker. And many are predicting he will be if Republicans take the House in the midterm elections this November. It’s a campaign photo.

Finstad, a former state representative from New Ulm, is running for a two-year term against Ettinger this fall. As part of his campaign, Finstad has made it his goal to fire Pelosi as part of a House Republican majority in 2023.


So while one photo might be charade, it is in the realm of make-believe to imagine that Finstad will mark his accession to Congress with a photo of him and the Speaker sharing a political moment together. That would be political malpractice.

Send questions to Answer Man at answerman@postbulletin.com .

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