Talking Points

If members of Congress are afraid of each other, what does that mean for the rest of us?

Sometimes, you wonder if Congress is cracking up. The House of Representatives has always been a fractious place — arguably, it was designed to be — but several reports this week suggest the institution is increasingly succumbing to anger and paranoia.

A quick recap:

On Tuesday, Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) poked and cursed at her after she asked him to mask up while they were riding a train at the Capitol. Rogers later apologized, but the damage was done. "This is the kind of disrespect we have been fighting for years, and indicative of the larger issue we have with GOP Members flaunting health and safety mandates designed to keep us and our staff safe," tweeted Beatty, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus.

Also on Tuesday,  Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas) accused the U.S. Capitol Police of entering his office and taking pictures of confidential documents during the weekend before Thanksgiving. The agency is "maliciously investigating me in an attempt to destroy me and my character," he said

The department's chief said an officer went into the office because its door was left wide open — a normal security precaution, but the matter has been referred to the department's inspector general for review.

That came hot on the heels of a Politico report that the House inspector general might call on the chamber's sergeant at arms to start "behavioral monitoring" of "insider threats" to the House of Representatives — a suggestion that members and their staff might not be safe from their own colleagues. Naturally, there was pushback. "Everything you told me about that report, I will stand at the top of my lungs and fight against," Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) told the newspaper.

Again, interpersonal crankiness between members of the House is nothing new. It's not been so long, for example, since then-Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) hurled a sexist slur at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). But there's no denying that tensions have risen since last year's insurrection. Some Democrats have made it plain they believe their Republican colleagues — a few of them at least — aided the rioters. It's one thing to disagree with your colleagues, call them names, or even hate them. It's another thing entirely to think they're putting you at risk of bodily harm. At the very least, it makes for a terrible work environment. 

Sometimes those fears are merited. In 1858, the House broke out in a fist fight between pro- and anti-slavery forces — more than 30 members were involved in the brawl. Three years later, the Civil War started. Then, as now, the violent tensions inside the chamber reflected the real-world anger and debates going on outside. Let's hope history isn't repeating itself.