Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) on Tuesday nearly started a fistfight with labor union leader Sean O’Brien in the middle of a Senate committee hearing, after the two traded ridiculous, high school-level insults for several minutes.
Mullin, a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, held up printed copies of past tweets by O’Brien that have mocked the senator. This was during a hearing theoretically focused on standing up to corporate greed.
“It says, ‘Greedy CEO who pretends like he’s self-made,’” Mullin read aloud from a tweet O’Brien posted in June. “‘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. Any place, anytime cowboy.’”
The senator, who is a former MMA fighter, then spoke directly to O’Brien, the general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
“This is a time, this is a place,” Mullin said. “If you want to run your mouth, we can be two consenting adults. We can finish it here.”
“OK, that’s fine,” O’Brien said. “Perfect.”
“You want to do it now?” Mullin asked.
“I’d love to do it right now,” O’Brien replied.
This is when things got really bananas.
“Well, stand your butt up then,” demanded the senator.
“You stand your butt up, big guy,” O’Brien shot back.
Mullin then stood up on the dais as if he was ready to brawl, which drew a laugh and some shouts in the room.
A fight almost broke out in a Senate hearing.
Markwayne Mullin read a tweet from Teamster boss Sean O'Brien which challenged Mullin to a fight. Mullin said he was ready to settle things right here, right now.
Bernie Sanders shut the scene down. pic.twitter.com/U0X3YmWPwY
— Citizen Free Press (@CitizenFreePres) November 14, 2023
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the committee chairman, had to intervene.
“Oh no,” he said, hitting the gavel. “Stop it. Sit down. Sit down. You’re a United States senator!”
Amid the dust-up, O’Brien sniped at Mullin: “Is that your solution to every problem?”
Sanders reminded them that this was a Senate committee hearing.
“God knows the American people have enough contempt for Congress,” said the Vermont senator, telling the two to knock it off.
It didn’t work, though.
“I don’t like bullies,” Mullin said.
“I don’t like you,” O’Brien responded. “Because you just described yourself.”
Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), at left, challenged International Brotherhood of Teamsters President Sean O'Brien, right, to a physical fight on Tuesday.
The two have previously sparred, and like this most recent instance, it was over mean tweets. In June, Mullin challenged O’Brien to an MMA match to prove who was the tougher guy outside of social media.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Mullin said O’Brien “went quiet” after that challenge, suggesting he was scared to fight him.
“I didn’t go quiet,” O’Brien replied. “You challenged me to a cage match acting like a 12-year-old schoolyard bully.”
Sanders had to jump in, again, with the gavel and a raised voice. People in the audience could be seen stifling laughs and even hiding their faces.
“We’re not here to talk about physical abuse!” said Sanders.
But the two went back at it, talking about how they don’t respect each other “at all.”
Mullin again brought up that O’Brien refused to agree to fight him. This time, the senator suggested a specific date and location for a public brawl.
“April 30. How about we do it for a charity at the Smoke & Guns in Tulsa, Oklahoma?” the senator said, referring to an MMA and boxing event in the area.
“You want to fight me?” asked O’Brien, incredulous.
“What’d you say about anytime, anyplace?” Mullin said, referring to O’Brien’s tweet.
“Let’s have coffee, discuss our differences,” said O’Brien.
Their conversation could have de-escalated from here. But it didn’t.
Mullin mocked O’Brien for “backing down.”
“I don’t back down on anything,” O’Brien replied.
“You did,” the senator said.
“You should be one of the most influential people in this country. You’re focused on something that’s irrelevant,” snapped the labor union boss. “You’re an embarrassment to the state of Oklahoma.”
Sanders finally cut them off and moved on to another senator on the committee to ask panelists questions, and that was that.
You’re an embarrassment to the state of Oklahoma.Labor union leader Sean O'Brien to Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.)
Mullin denied after the hearing that he was trying to pick a fight with O’Brien.
“I didn’t try to fight anyone, he called me out,” he told reporters. “You don’t call me out... and not back it up with what you said.”
When asked whether senators should be held to a higher standard, Mullin replied: “I’m still a guy.”
Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), who is a member of the committee, said she walked out as the two were verbally sparring.
“This is the U.S. Senate. This kind of behavior is unacceptable,” she told HuffPost. “I actually got up and left before it was over because I was so upset by what Sen. Mullin did. It’s a result of people having bad judgment who don’t seem to be able to detach from a policy disagreement.”
Smith said that people in general ― but especially U.S. senators ― should be able to have policy disagreements without literally challenging someone to a fight.
“I’m a human being, and I think you ought to behave with some sense of dignity,” she said.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said her GOP colleagues’ behavior reminded her of her previous job as an elementary school teacher.
“I used to teach 4- to 6-year-olds,” she said. “They were better behaved than some of the people in this place.”