In his “Manual of Parliamentary Practice” Vice President Thomas Jefferson set down some rules about how United States senators should behave. “No one is to disturb another in his speech by hissing, coughing, spitting, speaking or whispering to another; nor to stand up or interrupt him; nor to pass between the Speaker and the speaking member; not to go across the [Senate chamber], or to walk up and down it, or to take books or papers from the [clerk’s’] table or write there.” From its very beginning the Senate has stressed the importance of decorum.
In spite of Jefferson’s effort for civility among senators, there have been, over the years, some breaking of the rules. In May, 1856, a member of the House of Representatives, Preston Brooks, a relative of Senator Andrew Butler, entered the Senate Chamber and beat Senator Charles Sumner into unconsciousness. A few days earlier Senator Sumner of Massachusetts had berated Senator Stephen Douglas (as a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal…not a proper model for an American senator”) and announced that Senator Andrew Butler had taken on “a mistress…who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean the harlot, Slavery.” Andrew’s relative, Congressman Preston Brooks, took offense and beat Sumner with a cane on the floor of the Senate.
In February, 1902, Senator John McLaurin announced that Senator Ben Tillman was guilty of “a willful, malicious, and deliberate lie.” Tillman standing close by, turned around and punched McLaurin in the nose. Other senators tried to pull the two apart and eventually succeeded in doing so. This prompted Senate Rule XIX: “No senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”
Like the Senate, the House of Representatives also has a Code of Conduct for its members. The Executive branch is monitored by an Ethics Board.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, posted a tweet that seemed to threaten Michael Cohen just as Cohan was to testify before Congress. When Gaetz was asked if he could provide evidence for his statements about Cohen’s infidelities, he smiled and said, “As the President loves to say: ‘We’ll see.’” What rules apply now? The Senate rules? The House rules? Or the President’s rules? Have we no decency?