Trump’s violent talk shows signs of taking over Congress
Trump-allied conservatives are using more pugnacious rhetoric than ever, and in some cases, such as an incident Tuesday featuring Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), are ready to make things physical, a trend that is setting off alarm bells on Capitol Hill.
Republican and Democratic senators say former President Trump’s bombastic threats and insults, which have proved to be a winning political formula for the GOP, are catching on more broadly in Congress.
Senators in both parties say they were shocked when Mullin, a first-term senator and Trump ally, challenged the president of the Teamsters to a fistfight in the middle of a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, forcing the 82-year-old chair, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), to step in to keep blood from being spilled on his carpet.
Mullin told the Teamsters leader to “stand your butt up” and sprung out of his chair while taking off a wedding ring to prepare for melee.
The Oklahoma senator, a former mixed martial arts fighter, told CNN on Wednesday he had “full intentions” of pummeling the labor boss right there in the hearing room.
“First thing I thought of when I stood up I thought, ‘I’m going to break my hand on this guy’s face’ and will take my wedding ring off,” he said.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted twice to convict Trump of impeachment charges and will retire at the end of next year, said that unfortunately, in his view, the Republican Party has become the party of Trump.
He said Mullin’s attempt to challenge a witness to a brawl in the middle of a hearing was “clearly unfortunate.”
“I can understand losing one’s temper,” he said. “But it’s more important to rein it in.”
Romney said “there’s no question” there’s been a coarsening of political discourse in America.
“I don’t think that President Trump created something in the population that wasn’t there, but he brought something out that had been held behind norms and comity that is now out in the open,” he said. “Have we coarsened our debates and our dialogue? No question.”
The incident reminded some senators of Trump encouraging supporters to beat up protesters at one of his presidential campaign rallies in 2016.
“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them,” Trump told the cheering crowd. “I’ll pay the legal fees.”
Trump’s use of violent rhetoric has since become almost routine.
Last year, he said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had a “death wish” because he voted for bipartisan legislation, asserting without evidence that the lawmaker supported the bills “because he hates Donald J. Trump, and he knows I am opposed to them.”
In a Veterans Day speech last week, the former president vowed to “root out” the “radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country.”
Some lawmakers worry Trump’s belligerent style is starting to spread throughout Congress and politics more generally.
“It’s very concerning to me, and I feel like it really was unleashed by Donald Trump in the very beginning, in 2016, when he said I’ll pay your bail if you want to beat up a protester at the rally or ‘punch people in the face.’ All of that has gotten a sense of glorified attention and support, and it’s just gotten worse and worse,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said of the brawl that nearly broke out at Tuesday’s committee hearing.
“I worry about our young people looking at this. I worry about what this says about our society and respect for our society and respect for one another. And it leads to things like Jan. 6 and it’s OK to bust windows,” she said.
Republican senators echoed Stabenow’s concern when asked about the heated confrontation.
“It’s not the route that I’d like to see any of us go,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). “I understand the reason why there was anger.”
But he said “both individuals should have had a different approach to resolving it.”
Rounds, who endorsed Sen. Tim Scott’s (R-S.C.) now-defunct presidential campaign because he liked its positive message, said “you’re seeing folks on both sides of the political spectrum being less respectful of other people.”
Rounds observed that Trump recognized before most other politicians the anger brewing in American society and seized on it for political gain, but he warned it’s a dangerous path for the nation’s leaders.
“I don’t know if he changed [norms] or simply responded to what he saw from other people. I think he sensed that the American people were allowing this to go on, and he’s taken advantage of it, but it’s not the direction that I think our country should go,” he said.
“I really do believe that the Founding Fathers wanted us to get together here in Washington, work out our differences, and they do not expect us to be caning one another,” he added.
Republicans accused Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) of threatening violence against conservative justices on the Supreme Court in 2020 when he warned that Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch “have unleashed a whirlwind” and “will pay the price” if they ruled against abortion rights.
Schumer later acknowledged on the Senate floor “I should not have used the words I used” after Chief Justice John Roberts rebuked what he called the Democratic leader’s “dangerous” rhetoric.
There was another awkward incident on Capitol Hill on Wednesday when Trump acolyte Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) essentially called her fellow Republican Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) “a p—-” after he said she lacked “maturity and experience.”
Another Trump ally, House Oversight Committee Chair Jim Comer (R-Ky.) on Tuesday dismissed a Democratic colleague, Rep. Jared Moscowitz (Fla.), at a hearing by telling him, “You look like a Smurf.” The two lawmakers got into an argument during a hearing about the Biden family’s business dealings.
Also on Tuesday, former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) caused a scene when he allegedly elbowed Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) — who voted McCarthy out of his leadership job last month— in the back while Burchett was talking to a reporter.
Burchett spun around and told McCarthy: “You got no guts.”
“What kind of chicken move is that? You’re pathetic, man,” he said.
McCarthy later brushed off the incident, saying, “If I’d kidney punched him, he’d be on the ground.”
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.