Democrat says green pin ditched by GOP had hidden message

By Emma Dumain | 03/14/2024 06:40 AM EDT

Republicans suspected the bright green pin worn by every lawmaker had a secret meaning. They were right.

Congressional pin.

Then-Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) wearing a green pin identifying him as a House member in January 2023. Francis Chung/POLITICO

House Republican leaders spent a reported $40,000 in January to replace the official pin given to all members to show they had been sworn into the 118th Congress — a midterm expense driven by a confluence of factors, including that members on both sides of the aisle didn’t like the color.

Behind the decision to throw out the pin issued to 435 lawmakers: politics. Republicans believed that the outgoing Democratic majority of the 117th Congress picked the bright green color in honor of the Green New Deal, a progressive policy conservatives revile.

“I heard some guys and gals grumbling that it’s an environmental tribute or something like that — which, hey, I like the color green, I have a lot of John Deere equipment in that color,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), a rice farmer who serves on the committees on Agriculture and Natural Resources.


“But those of us in resource-based districts get really tired of how big environment groups are already kicking our heads in over how bad we are. … I think there’s some fatigue about the environment being used as a weapon.”

Those suspicions were echoed by more than a half-dozen other lawmakers, who were granted anonymity to share details of private conversations. It turns out the suspicions were right.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who was chair of the House Administration Committee in the previous Congress, helped choose the pin design for the current Congress. The committee has jurisdiction over developing and issuing the pins.

She told E&E News she had, in fact, picked green for its environmental connotations.

“The first time I was chair of the committee, I asked kind of too late and was told, ‘It’s already been done, the sergeant-at-arms did everything,’” said Lofgren, referring to the House’s chief law enforcement officer. “So the next time I was chair, I decided I was going to ask in advance to be involved.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) wearing a red and blue pin in 2022. | Drew Angerer/AFP via Getty Images

She said the pins typically “all look kind of boring, and the other thing is, they’re either red or blue, and it’s like, OK, we divide up the country as red and blue — why don’t we do something that is not red and blue, but is neutral, right? And I thought, something that is a symbol for a clean environment. So I thought, green.”

Lofgren is now the ranking member on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and a co-sponsor of a nonbinding resolution expressing federal support to institute a Green New Deal.

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), the ranking member on the House Interior-EPA Appropriations Subcommittee, upon learning of Lofgren’s motivations, said, “That makes me like it even more.”

Some ditched pins altogether

Pingree still wears the green pin, as does Lofgren and many other lawmakers.

While House members are required to wear official pins to move freely about the Capitol, gain access into restricted areas, and walk onto the House floor to vote and participate in legislative business, they don’t technically have to wear the pins issued at the start of the current Congress.

The pin they choose just have to have been issued by Capitol law enforcement, and long-serving lawmakers have an assortment to choose from in their personal collections.

According to current House Administration Chair Bryan Steil (R-Wis.), the problem with the green pin was that members weren’t wearing it — or any pin.

“I know a lot of members weren’t wearing them, and that puts a challenge on the police force,” Steil said in an interview, adding it was “a decision by the sergeant-at-arms” to change the color to something more members would want to display, for whatever reason — for politics or personal preference or otherwise.

Unlike Lofgren, Steil intimated he wasn’t closely involved in the redesign process but that he thought the new, dark blue pins “look great.”

This explanation — that it was the sergeant-at-arms’ decision to acquire new pins — at least partially contradicts previous assumptions that the House GOP majority had followed a year of historic congressional dysfunction by spending a massive amount of money on accessories based on a style preference.

“Every Congressional session we get a new pin — it’s our ID on the floor for the next 2 years. Today we’re getting a new pin, half way through the term because the @HouseGOP didn’t like the color,” Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) tweeted at the time. “Big congrats to them on their first tangible accomplishment of the 118th.”

A representative from the House sergeant-at-arms did not return multiple requests for comment for this story, or for confirmation that the pin switch cost $40,000, as previously reported by Semafor and The New York Times.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas).
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) wearing the new dark blue pin. | Francis Chung/POLITICO

‘I’m proud of my green one’

Rep. Joe Morelle of New York, now the top Democrat on the House Administration Committee, could not confirm Steil’s explanation because he said Democrats were not consulted about the decision.

Still, Morelle said, he did frequently have to tell colleagues last year not to wear “counterfeit pins” — badges individual members had had made by a third party they liked better for whatever reason.

“There were a number of members who had self-styled pins that they were wearing that hadn’t been issued by the House,” he said. “I encouraged a number of them not to wear pins that were not issued by the sergeant-at-arms, for security reasons.” Morelle did not specify whether these were Democratic or Republican colleagues, or both.

Pingree also said she heard rumors of “somebody who manufactured a bunch of pins on their own and were handing them out to people — one of my colleagues … someone who went somewhere and got their own pins because they didn’t like the green.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) during a press conference last year, wearing the green House pin. | Francis Chung/POLITICO

Yet even with the distribution of new pins, complaints have persisted. Some lawmakers have questioned the quality control on the pins, saying they are flimsily made. Others are still incensed about the decision to issue replacements on principle.

Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), when encountered recently in a Capitol Hill hallway, was visibly angry and shaking his lapel on which his green pin remained fastened. He said he “earned” his pin with each election to the House, and has, for every Congress, named his pin for the opponent he defeated.

In the 118th Congress, that name was “Corey” for Republican challenger Corey Gustafson.

“I feel very strongly we should stick by our security traditions,” he said. “I’m proud of my green one.”