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GOP Senator challenges Teamsters president to fight during hearing

By CM Chaney · November 15, 2023

In brief…

  • Heated exchange erupted between GOP Sen. Mullin and Teamsters head O'Brien at Senate hearing
  • Mullin challenged O'Brien, both men stood up before Sanders intervened
  • Mullin expressed past frustration with unions targeting his business
  • Clash underscored Republican-union divides, agendas for workers
A Senate hearing erupted into a near physical confrontation between Republican Senator Markwayne Mullin and Teamsters President Sean O'Brien over union issues before the chair Bernie Sanders stepped in to restore order.  Screenshot / Scripps News

A heated confrontation broke out Tuesday during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing between Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and Teamsters President Sean O’Brien. The tense exchange prompted committee chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to intervene.

The hearing focused on unions improving working families’ lives. O’Brien touted his union’s recent major contract with UPS after threatening to strike. That’s when Mullin challenged O’Brien.

“This is a time and this is a place. You want to run your mouth, we can be two consenting adults. We can finish it here. OK?” Mullin said. 

“That is fine, perfect,” O’Brien said. 

“You want to do it now?” Mullin said. 

“I’d love to do it right now,” O’Brien said. 

“Stand your butt up,” Mullin said. 

“Then you stand your butt up,” O’Brien said as Mullin stood up. 

The exchange prompted Sanders to get Mullin to sit back down. 

As both men stood up, Sanders stepped in.

“This is a hearing; we’re not here to talk about physical abuse.” He urged focusing questions on economic issues.

Mullin expressed past frustration over how unionized workers affected his plumbing business, claiming pipefitters “came after” him for winning union jobs. O’Brien accused Mullin of being a “greedy CEO” who “hides money.”

At the hearing, Mullin said he supports workers’ right to unionize but not obligatory membership. O’Brien testified that the UPS contract showed unions holding employers accountable.

The confrontation highlighted ongoing tensions between some Republicans and union leaders. Mullin questioned union practices while O’Brien touted organized labor’s achievements for workers.