Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), the former mixed martial arts fighter who challenged a labor leader to a brawl in the middle of a Senate hearing room Tuesday, says that there’s a long history of violence in American politics, claiming in an interview: “You used to be able to cane.”
Mullin isn’t backing down or apologizing after his confrontation with Teamsters president Sean O’Brien at a Senate Health Committee hearing nearly came to blows, forcing Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to step in to break up the potential fight.
Mullin defended his conduct in an interview with Newsmax, asserting: “Every now and then, you need to get punched in the face.”
“People ask me today is this becoming of a U.S. senator. I was like, ‘I’m a guy from Oklahoma first.’ In Oklahoma, you don’t run your mouth like that and if you do run your mouth like that, you’re expected to be called out on it,” Mullin said about his heated exchange with O’Brien after the Teamsters official called the senator a “clown” and a “fraud” on Twitter.
Mullin argued that it wouldn’t have necessarily violated the Senate rules if he and O’Brien had duked it out in the middle of the hearing room and even argued that caning someone is something of a Senate tradition.
“You used to be able to cane,” he claimed, apparently referring to the famous incident that took place on the floor of the Old Senate Chamber in 1856 when Rep. Preston Brooks (D-S.C.) smashed a metal-topped cane over anti-slavery Sen. Charles Sumner’s (Mass.) head he worked at his desk.
The caning incident epitomized the nation’s political polarization before the Civil War.
Sumner had mocked South Carolina Sen. Andrew Butler’s (D) support of slavery as “polluted,” comparing his colleagues devotion to slavery to being in love with a “harlot,” according to the Senate’s historical office.
Brooks came to his colleague’s defense by pummeling Sumner into a bloody mess that forced him to miss work for extended periods of time over the next three years.
Brookes was later arrested and convicted of assault and fined $300 for his action, which Massachusetts Sen. Henry Wilson condemned as “brutal, murderous and cowardly.”
Sumner went down in history as one of the Senate’s most prominent abolitionists and a champion of civil rights. His portrait now hangs in the Ohio Clock Corridor outside the Senate chamber.
Mullin pointed to other violent encounters in American political history.
“You got to remember that President Andrew Jackson challenged nine guys to a duel and won nine times,” he said. “At a White House one time, a guy was mouthing [at] him at the end of the table. Jackson jumped, literally ran across the table and knocked the guy out.
“And so, at the end of the day, there is precedence for it, if that’s what someone wants to do,” he said of exchanging blows with a political opponent.
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