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Video of Corman Shouting at Lt. Gov. While Senate Colleague Spoke Gets National Attention

by on June 29, 2019 5:27 PM

A chaotic debate in the state Senate on Wednesday over a cash assistance program for the poor has turned into a viral video with Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, at the center of it.

The video — which was being most widely shared on social media from posts by progressive media outlet Now This — showed Corman shouting over freshman Democratic Sen. Katie Muth, who was reading a letter from a formerly homeless constituent, for nearly three minutes as he called for Lt. Gov. John Fetterman to follow the rules of the Senate.

It has led to comments from people across the nation and in other countries who expressed outrage over Corman's persistent shouting over a female colleague who was advocating for the poor. Corman and other state GOP leaders say that Fetterman and the Democrats deliberately orchestrated chaos in the chamber and he was only trying to get the lieutenant governor to observe the rules.

The measure that led to the fracas, and which ultimately passed, eliminates $54 million for the General Assistance program that most recently provided about $200 a month for basic needs for 11,000 citizens who don't qualify for or are awaiting other assistance.

Unedited video from the incident and the minutes that followed, via the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

As described by PennLive's Charlie Thompson and Jan Murphy, demonstrators in the visitors gallery hung banners over the railings and led chants to urge senators to maintain the program. After a recess while some protestors were escorted out, debate began over a Democratic amendment to salvage the program for certain populations. When Corman made a motion to end debate, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny County, "loudly and bitterly protested," according to PennLive.

Fetterman left the rostrum to talk to Republican leaders. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, who presides in Fetterman's absence, seized the rostrum, called the Senate back into session and called for a procedural vote. Democrats then left the floor as role was called.

Democrats later returned to the floor and Fetterman reclaimed the rostrum, but the first-year Democratic lieutenant governor did not call for a vote on Corman's motion. Senate rules stipulate that once Corman was recognized and his motion made, the motion would not be subject to debate and a vote should be called.

Instead, Fetterman recognized Muth, of Montgomery County, who read a letter from John Boyd, a formerly homeless Philadelphia man who described how the General Assistance program helped him get on his feet and pleaded for senators not to end it. Throughout the duration of Muth's reading, Corman shouted at Fetterman, calling a point of order and demanding that Fetterman follow Senate rules.

"You need to do your job Mr. President," Corman shouted. "You need to answer my point of order. Bring the chamber to order, Mr. President. It's not a partisan job. You need to follow the rules..."

Corman became increasingly loud as he called for a point of order.

"The chair continues to acknowledge Senator Muth," Fetterman responded.

"We appeal your decision Mr. President," Corman said. "Mr. President you're becoming a partisan hack. This is your job. Do your job, Mr. President... You are not following the rules of the Senate, Mr. President... Step down from the dais, Mr. President... You have decided that you are going to ignore the rules of the Senate..."

Muth was unbowed and read the letter in its entirety, at times raising her voice to be heard over Corman. 

"Never in my career in the Senate has the presiding officer totally ignored the rules, the rules that we all voted on unanimously," Corman said after being acknowledged by Fetterman. "Mr. President, your job is to enforce the rules of the Senate, not to be a partisan hack."

Fetterman acknowledged Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, before calling the vote. The bill was approved by a 26-24 vote and signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday as part of the $34 billion state budget deal. 

In a statement on Wednesday night, Senate GOP leadership said Fetterman and Democrats "ambushed" order and decorum by not adhering to the Senate rules adopted unanimously in January.

“When our rules are not followed, chaos takes over," the statement said. "It was a sad day for good government in Pennsylvania and the actions of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle set a dangerous precedent for the future of an institution that we value so greatly.  When we disagree with one another we must do so in a respectful manner."

At a press conference on Wednesday, Scarnati said the rules state Corman's non-debatable motion should have immediately gone to a vote and that he took the rostrum to keep the rules in place. 

"This type of behavior is unacceptable," Scarnati said. "Unacceptable name-calling, unacceptable yelling votes 'Hell no,' unacceptable behavior in the gallery by guests I assume of members of the Senate... This isn't governing. This is chaos. If we have disagreements, we have procedures to work through them and that's what we were trying to do."

Corman said that Democrats had planned a number of amendments all aimed at saving parts of the program or delaying its elimination and that Costa was aware Republicans would eventually move to cut off debate. He said that the Democrats' actions were "orchestrated" and called it the "worst day in the Senate" of his 20 year career.

He also stood by calling Fetterman a "partisan hack."

"When you are completely ignoring the rules and working with the other side of the aisle specifically to do this demonstration, that's what you're becoming," Corman said. "I said 'do your job, you're becoming a partisan hack.'... He decided to join with the Democratic caucus to make this demonstration against our rules."

Corman said he usually gets along and works with Costa but that Wednesday's events were "an orchestrated attack on the Senate of Pennsylvania."

Costa said at a separate press conference that the General Assistance program is meant to help vulnerable people with assistance to transition to becoming self-sustaining. He said Senate Republicans' actions were "disgusting," "disheartening" and "disturbing," and that Scarnati's taking the rostrum was "unprecedented."

Senate Republicans, Costa said, were "sending a message that they don't care about the 11,095 people who were harmed, who were hurt, who need support... The amount of money this would have cost was nowhere near what we would have saved by helping these men and women."

Muth called ending the program "cowardly" and "immoral."

“I know I’m new here. My first budget season. I shouldn’t be shocked. I’m really not shocked," Muth said. "I’m more outraged that this is the stance that our colleagues, if we want to call them that, on the other side are thinking to take away $200 a month of General Assistance when they can collect two days of per diems that equals more than that.

"If you’re not here fighting for the most vulnerable, why are you here?”

Corman was re-elected in November for a sixth term in the Senate, defeating Democratic challenger Ezra Nanes by a 56-44 margin. He is in his third term as majority leader. Corman's 34th District represents Centre, Juniata and Mifflin counties and part of Huntingdon County.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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