Make Congress Violent Again

Let's go back to the good ole days when men were men and there was nothing that a little tobacco juice in the eye and a walking stick to the head couldn’t handle.
Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) at a Nov. 14 hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on the benefits of labor unions. At the hearing, he challenged a witness, the Teamsters president, to a fight.
Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) at a Nov. 14 hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on the benefits of labor unions. At the hearing, he challenged a witness, the Teamsters president, to a fight.
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

On Feb. 15, 1798, Rep. Roger Griswold of Connecticut finally had enough. It had been weeks of bickering with Rep. Matthew Lyon of Vermont.

Lyon accused Griswold of ignoring the interests of the people to line his own pockets. Griswold called Lyon a “coward” for using a temporary dishonorable discharge to keep him from fighting during the Revolutionary War. Lyon spit tobacco juice in Griswold’s eye.

Congress looked to expel Lyon for the gross assault, but a vote along party lines wasn’t enough to get Lyon, a member of the Democratic-Republican Party, expelled. So Griswold, a Federalist Party member, took matters into his own hands and walked onto the House floor and began beating Lyon with this walking stick. An all-out brawl ensued, and the two men had to be pulled apart by fellow members of Congress.

Ahhhh, the good ole days, when men were men and there was nothing that a little tobaccy juice in the eye and a walking stick to the head couldn’t handle. It was the kind of Congress America could be proud of. The kind of Congress that got things done, and when they couldn’t, they didn’t stand around lobbing insults, they got busy and back to the business of American violence.

Because violence has always been the American way.

So when the news broke Tuesday about a fight in Congress, I went searching for the hot takes that noted we were finally getting back to the basics of calling each other down to the mats and being the knucklehead country we’ve always been.

And I found nothing.

But the situation was promising! Though they’d barely gotten the smell of Bud Light and the moose fur from the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection out of the building, it appears that two men in suits almost came to blows. During a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, perpetually insecure Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma decided that now was the time to take a Twitter (now called X) beef to the congressional streets when he confronted Teamsters President Sean O’Brien over a post in which he called the Republican a “clown” and a “fraud.”

Mullin decided that a hearing, in which Congress members and those invited to testify were gathered, was the best place to read O’Brien’s tweet, in which he called the Republican a “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,” NBC News reported.

O’Brien also hashtagged the tweet ”#LittleManSyndrome” and showed a photo of Mullin standing on a wooden box during a debate.

“This is a time; this is a place,” Mullin said. “You want to run your mouth, we can be two consenting adults. We can finish it here.”

“OK, that’s fine, perfect,” O’Brien said.

“You want to do it now?” Mullin replied.

“I’d love to do it right now,” O’Brien said.

“Then stand your butt up then,” said Mullin.

“You stand your butt up,” said O’Brien.

When hearing this, I thought two things: “America is back, baby!”

And that this might be the most polite lead-up to a fight I’ve ever witnessed. But leave it to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to want to push for a better America.

Sanders began yelling at both men, “Stop it! No, no, sit down! You know, you’re a United States senator.”

The dust-up fizzled just as fast as it sparked, and both men agreed to get coffee and squash whatever beef they had. The peace talks didn’t last long, as later that same day, Mullin felt the need to post a photo of himself surrounded by a table of weaponry with the caption “Let’s do it. Anyplace, anytime.”

The very next day, Mullin, a former mixed martial arts fighter, went on a podcast to note that he’s not above biting a man in a fight.

“By the way, I’m not afraid of biting,” Mullin told podcaster Kyle Thompson on Wednesday’s episode of “Undaunted.Life.”

“I will bite,” he continued. “I’ll bite 100%. In a fight, I’m going to bite. I’ll do anything. I’m not above it, and I don’t care where I bite, by the way, it’s just... going to be a-biting.”

It didn’t take long for the folks on X to remind Mullin that he was hiding behind chairs during the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

But ignore that part because I’m here for the prime-time main event of man dancing. You know, the kind of pre-fight rituals that lead to a caning or, even worse, a drive-by spitting like the good ole days.

Even before the highly contentious Civil War, there were some 70 events of violence inside Congress, Joanne B. Freeman writes in “The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to the Civil War.” Because the institution of slavery was such a viciously savage endeavor, the violence would find its way into Congress.

“Congressmen during this period commonly carried pistols or bowie knives when they stepped onto the congressional floor,” notes. “In fact, by the late 1850s, some constituents actually sent their congressmen guns.”

O’Brien and Mullin weren’t the first two men to challenge each other to a fight inside the congressional walls. In 1838, Congress followed gang rules. You couldn’t talk about another Congress member without the entire party wanting to fight you, so because two other Congress members had a beef, Reps. Jonathan Cilley and William Graves, who weren’t even at odds, were forced into a duel. The men were so bad with guns that each missed the other on their first two rounds until Cilley was then fatally shot.

The bloody history of Congress sounds a lot like the mythical Chicago that Republicans often allude to. You know the Chicago that was consistently referenced during the Black Lives Matter marches. The Chicago that’s talked about incessantly on Fox News.

And though the killings in Congress have stopped, the chaos continues. One could argue the GOP lost its ability to properly “adult” after Democrat Bill Clinton’s first election, when Republican Newt Gingrich became speaker after the GOP took over the House in 1995. And, as the saying goes, the inmates have been running the asylum ever since, only gaining more and more power, from the wingnuts and religious fanatics to the tea partyers to the Freedom Caucusers to now the Trumpy MAGA worshipers.

Democratic House leaders, in modern history, have never governed over such dismay as when their counterparts were at the helm. Nancy Pelosi would never have allowed the children to behave like this while she was running the day care. Even the progressive “Squad” could do nothing with Pelosi’s iron-clad grip over her people. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has also become “the great uniter” during these troubling times. But for the past 50 years, if not more, it’s been the yahoos of the Republican Party who have dragged America into the petty bickering, pre-fight shoving matches and dysfunctional governance that are more concerned with inflicting punishment on outliers or pushing an agenda than they are with ensuring that their constituency can still afford groceries.

But this is what happens when the party tips too far right and the tinfoil hats begin to run amok.

This congressional performative pre-fight-male-dance is exhausting. The posturing, the puffing up of chests, the egos: It’s all as taxing as it is wasteful –– which may actually make all of this tough guy act a part of big government –– if it isn’t going to lead to actual violence.

A simmering feud between a Republican congressman and former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy almost turned violent. Almost.

Apparently McCarthy, who may still be upset about losing his speakership and becoming a national embarrassment as the first speaker voted out of this position, wasn’t pleased to see Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) giving an interview in a congressional hallway. See, Burchett was one of the eight Republicans who voted with Democrats to kick McCarthy out of his speakership post and, well, McCarthy (allegedly) decided to hit Burchett with the old chicken wing.

For the uninitiated, the “old chicken wing” is when you elbow someone, preferably in the kidneys. It’s a unique move because if done subtly enough it can appear to be an accident, but anyone who’s ever been hit with the “old chicken wing” will tell you that it doesn’t feel like an accident.

“Why’d you elbow me in the back, Kevin?! Hey, Kevin, you got any guts?!” Burchett said. He also called McCarthy a “jerk” and reportedly chased him down the hallway saying, “What kind of chicken move is that? You’re pathetic, man. You are so pathetic.”

Burchett told reporters later that the move was definitely intentional: “Oh, it was 100% on purpose, ma’am. What are the chances ... 435 members of Congress, eight of us voted against him. I’m the one who did it, one of them who did it. He publicly called me out.”

When asked, McCarthy noted, “If I’d kidney-punched him, he’d be on the ground.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) told reports that he can’t worry himself about what his fellow Republicans in the House have involved themselves in, adding: “[It’s] very difficult to control the behavior of everybody who’s in the building. I don’t view that as my responsibility. That’s something that the Capitol Police have to deal with.”

And he’s right. The police do need to get a handle on this lest the Congress of now become the Congress of old. At the very least, there needs to be a deep dive into the upbringings of these men who appear to be prone to violence and are unable to engage in civil discourse without the threat of danger.

But if they are going to act like thugs, then I say go all the way. Be full on in their thuggishness. Republicans seem to long for a time that was long ago, so take it back to May 22, 1856, when Rep. Preston Brooks, a pro-slavery Southerner, walked over to Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts and beat him unconscious with his cane and then walked out like nothing happened.

That’s the level of gangster I’m looking for ― it would at the very least make congressional hearings prime-time viewing. But if they aren’t going to go this hard, then they really need to grow up and act like adults in the room. I mean, they’re only responsible for the fate of the country and the laws that make us civilized.

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