Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
A congressional hearing descended into an angry confrontation between a senator and a witness Tuesday after Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma challenged Sean O’Brien, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, to “stand up” and resolve long-standing differences. right there in the room.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate panel holding the hearing, yelled at Mullin to sit down after challenging O’Brien to a fight. Mullin had risen from his seat on the stand and appeared to be beginning to remove her ring.
“This is the time, this is the place,” Mullin told O’Brien after reading a series of critical tweets O’Brien had sent about him in the past. “If you want to talk, we can be two consenting adults. We can end it here.”
The two men never met face to face in the courtroom. But they swore at each other for about six minutes as Sanders repeatedly hit his gavel and tried to cut them off. Sanders, a longtime union ally, pleaded with them to focus on the economic issues that were the focus of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, which Sanders was holding to review how unions help working families.
“You’re a United States Senator!” Sanders yelled at Mullin at one point.
Mullin, a frequent critic of union leadership, has clashed with the union leader before. Earlier this year, O’Brien repeatedly posted about Mullin on He said they were intimidation tactics. .
In another social media post, which Mullin read aloud at Tuesday’s hearing, O’Brien appeared to challenge Mullin to a fight. “You know where to find me. Anywhere, anytime, cowboy,” O’Brien had posted.
The exchange escalated from there, with Mullin telling O’Brien that “this is the place” and asking him if he wanted to do it right now.
“I’d love to do it now,” O’Brien said.
Mullin responded, “Well, then get off your ass.”
“Get your butt up,” O’Brien responded.
When Mullin rose from his chair, appearing ready to fight, Sanders yelled at him to sit down, slammed his gavel several times and told them both to stop talking.
“This is a hearing, and God knows the American people have enough contempt for Congress, don’t make it worse,” Sanders said.
As Mullin persisted, O’Brien retorted, “You challenged me to a cage fight, acting like a twelve-year-old schoolyard bully.”
The two traded angry insults for several more minutes, each calling the other a “bully,” and Mullin at one point suggesting they would fight for charity at an event next spring, repeating an offer he made earlier this year on social media. .
O’Brien refused and instead suggested that they meet for coffee to resolve their differences. Mullin agreed, but the two continued yelling at each other until the next senator, Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, began questioning her by speaking over them.
After the hearing, Sanders called the exchange “absurd.”
“We were there to talk, and we did talk, about the crisis facing working families in this country, the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else and the role that unions are playing in improving the standard of living of the American people “Said Sanders. “We’re not there to talk about cage fighting.”
When asked later about the skirmish, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell demurred. “It’s very difficult to control the behavior of everyone in the building,” McConnell said. “I don’t see it as my responsibility.”
Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said references to the back-and-forth were made at a GOP conference meeting after the hearing. But he said no one should take it too seriously.
“It’s a dynamic place,” Cramer said of the Senate. “We don’t wear white wigs anymore.”