Boxer to Vitter: 'When you have this gavel, you make the rules'

Greg Nash

Sens. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerReid faces Sanders supporters' fury at DNC Calif. Dem touts her 'badass' sister's Senate run The Trail 2016: One large crack in the glass ceiling MORE (D-Calif.) and David VitterDavid VitterTim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense David Duke will bank on racial tensions in Louisiana Senate bid Former KKK leader David Duke running for Senate MORE (R-La.) heatedly clashed Wednesday during a hearing on nuclear power safety.

Boxer, the chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, was criticized by Vitter, the ranking Republican, for her treatment of a witness. At one point, she gaveled down Vitter and told him he is powerless to stop her, saying, “When you have this gavel, you make the rules.”

The quarrel started when Boxer repeatedly asked Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane whether her agency has implemented any of the recommendations from a task force set up after the 2011 Fukushima Dai'ichi nuclear disaster in Japan.

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“I asked you a question,” Boxer said. “Has industry implemented any of these 12? They haven’t.”

Macfarlane began to say that the NRC prioritized certain recommendations, and some would be completed by the end of 2016. But Boxer was having none of it, and kept interrupting Macfarlane, asking for a yes or no answer.

“Madam chairman, I’d like to hear from the commissioner on where they are in the process,” Vitter, the panel’s top Republican, interrupted.

“Well, I’m running out time, so you can ask her on your time,” Boxer responded. She then asked one of her staffers to add 10 seconds to her five-minute question allowance due to Vitter’s interruption.

Vitter later interjected when Boxer repeatedly demanded a yes or no answer on whether Macfarlane would vote to allow exemptions to safety rules for the decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in southern California.

“Madam chairman, will you let our witnesses answer your question? I mean, the way it normally works is you get to ask the question, but they do get to answer,” Vitter said.

Boxer was relentless and kept demanding that Macfarlane chose from three answers: “yes,” “no” or “I don’t know.”

“Madam chairman, we don’t normally have hearings requiring the witnesses to fill in bubble test forms,” Vitter interrupted, as Boxer gaveled him down.

“Excuse me,” she responded. “When you have this gavel, you make the rules.”

By the time Boxer was done, her questioning had taken nearly 10 minutes.

Vitter later accused Democrats of trying to scare the public in order to shut down the nuclear industry.

Boxer has chaired the panel since Democrats took control of the Senate in 2007. Vitter has been its ranking member since last year and would likely become chairman next year if Republicans take the Senate.