Unless you reside in the state that elected him, there’s a very good chance you’d never heard of Republican Senator Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma until he told a man to “stand your butt up” and challenged him to a fight during a Senate committee hearing.
Sean O’Brien, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, was testifying at that Nov. 14 hearing, but Mullin was all up in his feelings over mean things O’Brien had said about him on social media. And the best way for a Republican lawmaker in 2023 to handle this disagreement, Mullin decided, was to invite O’Brien to throw hands.
That same day, Republican Representative Tim Burchett of Tennessee claimed GOP Representative Kevin McCarthy intentionally elbowed him in the back — “a clean shot to the kidneys,” as Burchett put it — as he passed Burchett in a US Capitol hallway. Yelling back and forth, the two men publicly squabbled like children stuck in the back seat of the family car on a long trip. A smirking McCarthy denied poking Burchett, but later told reporters, “If I kidney punched someone, they would be on the ground.”
And some say women are too emotional to be leaders.
If you want to see the much-discussed crisis in masculinity in action, look no further than elected Republican men who are ferociously waging their uncivil wars. From a deadly insurrection to voter suppression, Republicans are down for anything when it comes to amassing power. Here’s what they’ve accomplished since narrowly reclaiming the House last year:
- A 15-round battle to elect McCarthy as House speaker in January;
- Ousting McCarthy nine months later for avoiding a government shutdown;
- Keeping House business on hold for three weeks while they rejected three nominees to replace McCarthy;
- Settling on election denialist Republican Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana, who’s also getting heat from the House’s far-right chaos caucus for preventing a government shutdown.
These recent dustups show Republicans as a party with more clowns than a horror movie convention. On Wednesday, exasperated Republican Representative Chip Roy of Texas lambasted his GOP brethren.
“One thing. I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing. One. That I can go campaign on and say we did,” Roy said. “Anybody sitting in the complex, if you want to come down to the floor and come explain to me, one meaningful, significant thing the Republican majority has done.”
Wait, Republican voters don’t want their elected officials threatening to square up with each other in US Capitol hallways and in Senate hearings? They didn’t revel in Republican Representative James Comer of Kentucky, chair of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, recently calling Democratic Representative Jared Moskowitz of Florida “a smurf” during a heated hearing?
Of course, much of this immaturity masquerading as American masculinity is copied from Donald Trump’s playbook of demeaning and threatening anyone who doesn’t agree with or speaks ill of him. That’s what Mullin was doing with O’Brien. Even after Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who chaired the hearing, told Mullin to “sit down” and reminded him “You are a United States senator,” Mullin kept yapping at O’Brien.
A day later on a podcast, Mullin, a former mixed martial arts fighter, was still talking about fighting O’Brien. Real men don’t apologize for their foolishness; they turn it into a fundraising opportunity. On his official website, Mullin identifies himself as “Christian — Family Man — Rancher — Businessman.” So, what would Jesus do? He’d probably turn the other cheek instead of gloating about his willingness to bite another man in a fight.
It’s been 167 years since Preston Brooks, a pro-slavery senator from South Carolina, beat abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts nearly to death with a metal-topped cane after a contentious hearing about whether Kansas should be a free or slave state. It’s been 10 months since Republican Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama had to be physically restrained when he looked as if he might take a swing at Republican Representative and professional irritant Matt Gaetz of Florida during the messy battle for a new House speaker.
Congressional violence, or the threat of it, among elected members isn’t new, but that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed as nothing more than fodder for late-night comedians or “Saturday Night Live” skits. Unfortunately, there will be no serious repercussions for McCarthy, Mullin, or any other Republican who behaves as if Congress is a barroom parking lot at closing time.
But there will be repercussions for voters when crucial issues facing this nation are stymied by men who’d rather act like schoolyard bullies than lead like adults.