Civil Unrest: The Death of Decorum in Washington?

Has Civility Reached an Historic Low in Congress?

ByABC News
August 11, 2010, 1:38 PM

August 12, 2010 -- There was an extraordinary moment during the final senate debate on Elena Kagan's Supreme Court confirmation. While Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) delivered remarks, Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) was gasping, shaking his head, and commenting under his breath. Franken's displeasure with McConnell's speech was so blatant that the Kentucky Republican felt compelled to confront him afterwards.

According to Republican aides who overheard, Republican leader McConnell admonished Senator Franken saying, "this is not Saturday Night Live."

Franken later apologized, but the incident certainly raises the question: is the tradition, and indeed, the rule of decorum dying in Congress?

Remember Senator Carl Levin's generous use of the "s"-word during a Senate Subcommittee on Investigations hearing with Goldman Sachs? Originally reading from an e mail and then questioning Goldman exec Daniel Sparks, the Senator used a word we can't even say on TV (rhymes with witty) 21 times in a single hearing.

Such language is rare in the halls of the Senate, but not unheard of. Back in February, Sen. Jim Bunning decided to hold up action in the chamber, telling frustrated and complaining Democrats: "tough s***."

And back in 2004, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont walked over to the Republican side of the Senate chamber to confront then-Vice President Dick Cheney. The two men got into a confrontation over Leahy's criticisms of the White House's portrayal of Democrats. Cheney famously ended the conversation telling Leahy, "go f*** yourself."

In the House, members have also been seen screaming bloody murder. As the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act sailed towards defeat earlier this summer, Rep. Anthony Weiner erupted in a stunning outburst directed at Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).

Rep. Patrick Kennedy made quite the red-faced splash on the House floor back in March while delivering a blistering and impassioned speech directed at the Obama administration and the media on the subject of Afghanistan.

And one can never forget Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-S.C.) shouting "you lie" at the President of the United States during his health care address to Congress.