Rep. Anthony Weiner (D) of New York’s astonishing broadside against House Republicans he branded “cowardly” Thursday might count as yet another black mark against the civility of the current session of Congress. (See video below.)
Congressman Weiner’s outburst, after all, follows Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R) of Texas calling Rep. Bart Stupak (D) of Michigan a “baby killer” during the health-care debate, and Rep. Joe Wilson (R) of South Carolina shouting “You lie!” at President Obama during the State of the Union address.
No one in the 111th Congress has, for example, crossed the Capitol to beat a colleague unconscious with a cane, as South Carolina Rep. Preston Brooks did to anti-slavery Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts in 1856.
Nor did one lawmaker, wielding a cane, go after another, armed with hot fireplace tongs, as happened in the first recorded congressional fight in 1798.
Canings, it would seem, were somewhat common in the House in the years before the Civil War. Even party was no deterrent to Congress’s pugilistic past: In 1902, Sen. Ben Tillman of South Carolina punched his Palmetto State and Democratic colleague, John McLaurin, in the mouth.
Congress has in more recent times departed from its no-holds-barred roots, with physical confrontations confined to a few shoves in front of staffers and colleagues, with the Capitol police quick to intervene.
Yet Weiner’s tirade Thursday was noteworthy in itself, if only because it showcased the sometimes hot-headed Weiner at his most volcanic. From the lectern on the floor of the House, he hurled his condemnation of the Republicans with the full-throated force of a political malediction.
At issue was a bill to provide long-term medical benefits to 9/11 first responders. The bill was defeated, enraging Weiner.
Nor was Thursday's rant all. Friday morning on Fox News, the acrimony only increased when Weiner sparred with Rep. Peter King (R) of New York, who voted for the bill but took issue with Weiner’s partisan comments. (See video below.)
Standing side by side, the two bickered to the point that they drowned out the newsroom anchor, Weiner openly mocking Congressman King’s influence and King accusing Democrats of hiding behind a procedural gimmick.
To prevent Republicans from adding any amendments to the bill, Democratic leaders adopted a procedure that put the bill directly to a vote – with no amendments – but required the bill to get a two-thirds majority to pass.
King argued that Democrats did this only because they wanted to avoid having to take votes on potentially controversial amendments, such as one to bar illegal immigrants from getting aid from the bill.
The best than can be said about the exchange on Fox News, perhaps, was that there were no canes or fireplace tongs present.
[Editor's note: The original version incorrectly stated that the caning of Sen. Charles Sumner took place in 1851. The incident actually took place in 1856.]
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VIDEO BELOW: Rep. Anthony Weiner yells at Republicans from the House floor
VIDEO BELOW: Weiner and Rep. Peter King spar on Fox News.