Sen. Bernie Sanders went viral yesterday for supporting a ceasefire — just not one between Israel and Hamas.
Far-right U.S. Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma challenged Teamsters union leader Sean O’Brien to a physical fight during a Senate hearing Tuesday, and the two might have exchanged blows had Sanders not intervened.
The dustup happened during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. The topic was how unions have helped workers economically and can continue doing so. Mullin, a Republican and former mixed martial arts fighter, took the opportunity to call out O’Brien, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, citing tweets O’Brien had posted after a previous hearing.
Bernie Sanders stops a fistfight
Mullin, who owns a plumbing company, read aloud one of O’Brien’s tweets about him: “'Greedy CEO who pretends like he’s self-made. In reality, just a clown and 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.'”
Mullin then said to O'Brien himself: “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.”
“OK, that’s fine. Perfect,” O’Brien said.
“You want to do it now?” Mullin asked. “Stand your butt up, then.”
“You stand your butt up,” O’Brien responded, and Mullin did stand up as if he were going to fight the union leader. Then Sanders, the committee chair, spoke up.
“Hold it. No, no, no, sit down. Sit down! You’re a United States senator, sit down,” said Sanders, while banging his gavel. He soon after added: "God knows the American people have enough contempt for Congress, let's not make it worse."
Mullin and O’Brien traded more insults, calling each other a “thug,” and Mullin suggested a cage match while Sanders sought to restore order.
“Excuse me, hold it,” Sanders said. “Sen. Mullin, I have the mic. If you have questions on any economic issues, anything that was said, go for it. We’re not here to talk about physical abuse.”
After the hearing, both Mullin and O’Brien stood their ground. “He called me out. … He said anytime, anyplace,” Mullin said, according to The Hill. “You don’t call me out and say ‘anytime, anyplace,’ and then not back it up what you said.”
Asked about standards of behavior for senators, Mullin said, “I’m still a guy. He called me. He said it. I just answered the bell. That was all.”
O’Brien said the two should discuss their differences over coffee.
Mullin is a first-term senator who previously served five terms in the U.S. House. He is deeply conservative, and as such is an opponent of LGBTQ+ rights. He received a score of 30 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard during his first term and all zeroes in his subsequent terms. In 2020, as a House member, he sponsored legislation that would have barred transgender students from playing on the school sports teams matching their gender identity. It went nowhere.
Sanders, for his part, tweeted thanks to the union leaders who appeared at the hearing today — O’Brien, United Auto Workers International President Shawn Fain, and Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson.
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