On Tuesday, Republican lawmakers made headlines over a couple of interactions that led to accusations from the media that the GOP had devolved into an angry collection of violent people.
First, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California shoved or struck GOP colleague Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, the latter claimed.
Later that day, Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma challenged Teamsters union president Sean O’Brien to a fight on the Senate floor.
Neither of the incidents painted the party in its best light, but were they unprecedented in this country’s storied history?
Is a lack of decorum in a divided country really so unusual, considering our lawmakers once engaged in duels that often resulted in death?
Naturally, Democrats and their establishment media sycophants portrayed the two incidents as evidence the GOP has become an off-the-rail entity that has embraced violence.
Ignoring the fact that essentially every elected Democrat encouraged rioting throughout the summer of 2020 that resulted in death, destroyed property and lingering lawlessness, the party of Jim Crow is not in a position to label its opposition as inherently violent.
Legislative bodies across the world see occasional melees during sessions, and this country certainly didn’t see anything of the sort on Tuesday.
Explaining Tuesday’s Incidents
To put better put last week’s incidents into a historical context, let’s first go over them.
Burchett said he was the victim of an assault by McCarthy, who until just about six weeks ago was the House speaker.
“I got elbowed in the back, and it kind of caught me off guard because it was a clean shot to the kidneys,” the Tennessee Republican told CNN. “And I turned back and there, there was Kevin, and for a minute I was kind of, ‘What the heck just happened?’ And then I chased after him, of course.”
Burchett added, “Now he’s the type of guy that when you’re a kid would throw a rock over the fence and run home and hide behind his mama’s skirt.”
Tim Burchett describes the moment where he claims that Kevin McCarthy hit him from behind with a “clean shot to the kidney” in the halls of the Capitol after the GOP conference meeting. pic.twitter.com/lTyH6dM1cQ
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) November 14, 2023
McCarthy later denied he had assaulted a member of his own caucus.
“If I hit somebody, they would know it,” the former speaker said in response to the allegation from Burchett, CNN reported. “If I kidney punched someone, they would be on the ground.”
Regarding Mullin’s incident on the Senate floor, the Oklahoma Republican was questioning O’Brien during a hearing when he invoked an ongoing social media beef between him and the Teamsters boss.
While referring to a post from O’Brien that had challenged him to a fight, Mullin used the hearing as an opportunity for him to back up his words in person.
“Sir, this is a time, this is a place. You want to run your mouth. We can be two consenting adults. We can finish it here,” the senator said. “You want to do it now?”
O’Brien said he was willing to fight Mullin, a former professional MMA fighter.
“Well, stand your butt up, then,” Mullin said to the union boss, who replied, “You stand your butt up.”
Oklahoma Sen. Markwayne Mullin @SenMullin just stood up and tried to fight labor leader Sean O’Brien @TeamsterSOB at a Senate Help Committee hearing after reading his tweet where O’Brien says he’d take him “any time, any place.” pic.twitter.com/8oiPSNZJV8
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) November 14, 2023
Mullin got up from his chair ready for a brawl, but independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont brought order to the hearing.
The reaction online from many on the left regarding both incidents was swift.
Democrats Jumped to Label the GOP a Party of Violence
Following Burchett’s accusation and Mullin’s Senate floor stand, X saw no shortage of accounts that attacked the GOP as a party of rapscallions who had embraced political violence.
When you think the GOP crazy reached peak crazy… they find ways to shatter that glass ceiling. https://t.co/JSgCXXNPQW
— Zion Ryan Cruz (@zryanverse) November 15, 2023
Today is what a political party looks like when they know for certain they’re going to lose control of the House next year. It’s going to get worse. https://t.co/OMmJp3lGNg
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) November 14, 2023
Republicans taking swings at each other in the House and in the Senate a Republican U.S. Senator stands up to fight a witness testifying in a committee.
Republicans are unserious, in disarray and cannot govern for the people.
Vote to Save Democracy in 2024 https://t.co/ILJi73zhG9
— Senator Bob Duff, Majority Leader, Connecticut (@senatorduff) November 15, 2023
Just another Tuesday in the Republican-run House of Representatives https://t.co/XiVAaQHD9q
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) November 14, 2023
Do I need to start carrying yellow penalty flags around the halls of the Capitol with me? Or should we create a penalty box like the NHL has? https://t.co/RyR9O78VUc
— Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (@CongressmanRaja) November 14, 2023
President Trump’s violent talk shows signs of taking over Congress.
— The Hill (@thehill) November 16, 2023
Democrats put #PeopleOverPolitics and passed the infrastructure law to help supply chains and lower costs.
What are Republicans focused on? Look below about Republicans Markwayne Mullin, Kevin McCarthy and Derrick Van Orden. https://t.co/FXKg4dUQVk
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) November 14, 2023
So this morning Kevin McCarthy elbowed a fellow Republican in the back, hard enough for Burchett to know it wasn’t a mistake. A Republican Senator named MarkWayne Mullin tried to fight a witness. Bernie Sanders had to make him sit down. They are an embarrassment! #VoteBlue pic.twitter.com/v0PMpjuZPP
— PokerWen♠️ (@wendow) November 14, 2023
These reactions and others were exploitative, especially when you recall how the left reacted to the George Floyd riots.
Remember this last year? MSNBC’s Ali Velshi says situation not ‘generally speaking unruly’ while standing outside burning building.
CNN’s- Jimenez was standing in front of a raging fire and the chyron at the bottom of the screen read, “FIERY BUT MOSTLY PEACEFUL PROTESTS?” pic.twitter.com/XevuI0ySlh
— Suzanne ????????♥️ (@snoopsmom123) June 30, 2021
The posts also ignored the fact that this country’s elected officials previously engaged in duels that left one or both parties dead or wounded.
Washington and a History of Violence
America has come a long way from the evils of slavery, but one of the most infamous examples of Washington’s political violence came in 1854 as tensions between the Northern and Southern states had ratcheted up.
Brooks attacked him viciously with a cane.
“Wielding the cane he used for injuries he incurred in a duel over a political debate in 1840, Brooks entered the Senate chamber and attacked Sumner at his desk, which was bolted to the floor,” an account of the assault from History.com said. “Sumner’s legs were pinned by the desk so he could not escape the savage beating. It was not until other congressmen subdued Brooks that Sumner finally escaped.”
May 22, 1856
Preston Brooks canes Charles Sumner on the U.S. Senate floor. pic.twitter.com/asKDNoTCUl
— Tim Hooks (@LincolnWatchman) January 7, 2023
Violence in Congress in the early days of the country went far beyond canings.
In 1838, Democratic Rep. Jonathan Cilley of Maine agreed to a duel with Rep. William Graves of Kentucky, a member of the Whig party.
Feeling his honor had been challenged by Graves amid an allegation of bribery, Cilley agreed to a rifle fight in Prince George’s County, Maryland, according to an archive from the House of Representatives.
Neither man was very good with a rifle, but after three rounds of firing and reloading, Cilley was shot and soon died from his injuries.
Then-President Martin Van Buren attended the funeral.
President Andrew Jackson shot and killed another man in a duel following an accusation he cheated while gambling on a horse race.
In 1806, when Jackson was a lawyer in Tennessee, a man named Charles Dickinson not only accused Jackson of cheating on the race but also insulted his wife. The two men agreed to a pistol fight that took place in Kentucky on May 30 of that year.
History.com said of the duel, “Jackson received Dickinson’s first bullet in the chest next to his heart. Jackson put his hand over the wound to staunch the flow of blood and stayed standing long enough to fire his gun.
“Dickinson’s seconds claimed Jackson’s first shot misfired, which would have meant the duel was over, but, in a breach of etiquette, Jackson re-cocked the gun and shot again, this time killing his opponent. Although Jackson recovered, he suffered chronic pain from the wound for the remainder of his life.”
Jackson was estimated to have participated in anywhere from five to 100 duels throughout his life, according to History.com, but the American people had no issue electing him as the commander-in-chief of the country and its armed forces — twice.
Looking back on the United States’ relatively short history, there has been no shortage of incidents of violence within the chambers of Congress.
Putting Tuesday’s GOP Antics into the Proper Context
While one can point to any number of historical examples of congressional violence, it does not offer Mullin, McCarthy or any other elected official a free pass to put his hands on another individual — or to threaten to.
Tuesday’s incidents are a black eye for a party that is attempting to make a case to voters that its vision heading into 2024 is the right one for America.
But Mullin’s decision to bring a personal social media beef into an official proceeding and McCarthy’s alleged shove/punch are tame in comparison with previous spats, brawls and beatings among politicians in Washington.
Americans naturally expect leaders to conduct themself professionally. But let us not forget that in 2016, then-Vice President Joe Biden told reporters he wanted to physically assault then-GOP nominee Donald Trump.
“The press always asks me, don’t I wish I were debating him?” Biden said while he was campaigning for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. “No, I wish I were in high school, I could take him behind the gym. That’s what I wish.”
Two years later, Biden claimed that if the fight would have occurred, he would have “beat the hell out” Trump, CBS News reported.
Biden also bragged four years ago that he threatened to wrap a chain around the head of an alleged gang member he called “Corn Pop,” who he claimed he had kicked out of a Delaware public pool in his youth:
Historically, violence was generally accepted in Washington.
Today, although it is not, we must remember that our elected officials, as corrupt and morally bankrupt as many of them might be, are human.
In a divided country, Tuesday was evidence that men are capable of retreating to their most basic instincts when a productive debate fails to materialize.
Does that excuse a near-fistfight in the Senate? The obvious answer is no.
But let’s not forget that when Mullin stood up in front of O’Brien ready for a fight, he did so in a building where canings were once as socially accepted as drinking water.
Let’s also not forget that the country’s sitting president publicly fantasized about violence just a few years ago while referring to a political opponent.