HARRISBURG — In a rare rebuke, Republicans who control the state Senate penned a scathing letter Tuesday to Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, asserting that his “self-righteous defiance" of the chamber’s rules led to last week’s chaotic fight on the floor.
In the letter, signed by all 28 GOP senators, Republicans tore into what they perceived as Fetterman’s “disdain” for presiding over the chamber, one of the key functions of a lieutenant governor. They claim that Fetterman deliberately ignored the Senate’s rules last week during an emotional debate over ending a cash-assistance program for the poor — and said that if he did it again, they would assign someone else to run the floor.
“This arrogance was the principal driver of the chaos of the day,” the senators, including Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson), wrote.
They added: “Your self-righteous defiance of the Rules has scarred the institution.”
Democrats, including Gov. Tom Wolf, said they believed it was “time to move on.” Fetterman echoed that sentiment in a tweet, saying he was “looking forward to rejoining my colleagues — from both sides of the aisle — when the Senate reconvenes in September to collectively work together for the people of this great commonwealth.”
The floor fight last week made national headlines after a video was widely shared on social media.
In the video, Republican Majority Leader Jake Corman — surrounded by male colleagues and staffers — angrily yells at Fetterman to acknowledge him, all while attempting to stop a Democratic senator, Katie Muth of Montgomery County, from speaking. At the time, Muth was reading a letter from a once-homeless man who had relied on the cash-assistance program.
The episode was widely criticized, particularly by progressives, as powerful men attempting to muzzle a female colleague. Republicans dispute that interpretation, saying Corman was addressing the lieutenant governor, referred to on the floor as “Mr. President.” Under Senate rules, Fetterman was required to acknowledge Corman, who has the right to interrupt another senator.
“I went back and read the transcript, and I stopped at 30 ‘Mr. Presidents,’” said Drew Crompton, Scarnati’s chief of staff and the Senate’s top lawyer. “The emotional charge that was coming from Sen. Corman was fully directed at Fetterman.”
Crompton said Corman’s office had received hundreds of “grossly offensive” emails, phone calls, and other messages threatening the senator, his family and staffers, in some cases with sexual assault or death.
“I know Trump supporters sometimes are accused of doing this, but this is the left and this is people who often reference Trump and their disdain for him,” Crompton said.
Corman spokesperson Jennifer Kocher said law enforcement was investigating some of the messages. A spokesperson for Senate Democrats said she was not aware of any threats to their members.
Senators from both parties said they were frustrated by what happened. Crompton and Republican senators want Fetterman to spend the summer studying the Senate rules and to attend a convention for government officers in Las Vegas before recess ends in September.
Crompton said that Fetterman’s grasp of the rules of the chamber is poor, and that the lieutenant governor takes a cavalier attitude toward his duties as presiding officer.
“There’s a lot of eye rolls, there’s a lot of unhappiness that he is wearing on his facial expressions and his body language on a daily basis,” Crompton said. “But that’s not the point. The point is whether he’s doing what he should do to preside in a constitutional body like the Senate.”