The Signal

Serving the College since 1885

Monday March 4th

Tensions explode in Congress as holiday break nears

<p><em>A spate of skirmishes and outbursts have broken out between Congress members and visitors over the past month in both the U.S. House and Senate (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/“</em><a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Capitol_west_side.JPG" target=""><em>US Capitol west side</em></a><em>” by Martin Falbisoner. CC-BY-SA-3.0. September 5, 2013). </em></p>

A spate of skirmishes and outbursts have broken out between Congress members and visitors over the past month in both the U.S. House and Senate (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/“US Capitol west side” by Martin Falbisoner. CC-BY-SA-3.0. September 5, 2013). 

By Rajika Chauhan
Staff Writer

A spate of skirmishes and outbursts have broken out between Congress members and visitors over the past month in both the U.S. House and Senate. After what has been an unprecedented year of turnover and chaos for Capitol Hill, including the recent ousting of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, such incidents add further fuel to an already inflamed working environment. 

Among the encounters was a near fistfight during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee meeting, as reported by ABC News. Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin from Oklahoma challenged labor union leader Sean O’Brien to a fistfight in a verbal spar that appears to have been the culmination of weeks of back and forth waged over social media. 

O’Brien, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, had made a number of posts disparaging the senator, some of which were read aloud by Mullin during the hearing: "Greedy CEO who pretends like he’s self made. In reality, just a clown & fraud. Always has been, always will be. Quit the tough guy act in these senate hearings. You know where to find me. Anyplace, anytime cowboy."

Mullin, a former MMA fighter, called O’Brien up for a physical challenge from the dais, taking off his wedding ring in apparent preparation for a fight, according to Forbes. As the two men shouted at each other with escalating threats, Mullin asked O’Brien to “stand your butt up then.”

The emotional display was interjected by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the panel, who commanded the two men to maintain their decorum with reminders of the setting. 

“You’re a United States Senator. Sit down, please,” Sanders said.

Confrontations were not limited to the Senate, nor to meetings between Congress members and community officials. The New York Times reported that another charged encounter erupted earlier in the day between former Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, a conservative who was one of eight Republicans that voted to remove McCarthy from the speakership last month. 

Burchett alleged that McCarthy had elbowed him in the back while he was speaking to journalists in a hallway following a meeting, and then kept on walking. Burchett ran after McCarthy and delivered a number of incendiary statements, calling the California Rep. a “jerk,” “chicken” and “pathetic.” 

Burchett later told reporters of the incident: “It was just a cheap shot by a bully. And then I chased after him. And we had a few words.”

Bitter sentiments are still being held within the Republican Party between the number of ultra right-wing conservatives who voted against McCarthy and allies of the former Speaker who see the ouster as a betrayal enacted by an extremist sect. 

Both chambers of Congress have faced an unusually contentious year of politics, with a number of power plays and movements up and down the political ladders. The Senate has been in session for five weeks, and the House for 10 without recess, a factor that some blame for increased tensions and irritability amongst Congressmembers. 

Doug Andres, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said in a tweet following the day’s events, “Today is another example of why Congress should not be in session for 5 weeks straight. Weird things happen.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson appeared to reference the week’s frustrations in a news conference just days before Congress would break for Thanksgiving, telling reporters, “This place is a pressure cooker.”

Having just barely avoided a government shutdown earlier this month, Congress will attempt to close out what has proven to be a particularly difficult year in the coming weeks, before a longer winter recess. When it returns to session in January, it will meet no shortage of further obstacles, gearing up for a banner election year. 




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