GOP Pennsylvania lawmaker yells over Dem reading letter from former homeless man in viral video

Pennsylvania’s state Senate erupted this week during debate over a bill that ended funding for the some of the poorest residents, leading a Republican lawmaker to shout over his Democratic colleague for nearly three minutes.

Republicans have pushed to end the General Assistance program but Democrats on Wednesday introduced amendments to save the monthly funding for certain populations, such as domestic violence victims, people with disabilities or veterans, Penn Live reported.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R) made a motion to cut off the debate and called for a vote. 

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Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who was presiding over the chamber, temporarily left the platform to speak with angry lawmakers. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R), who leads the chamber when the lieutenant governor is absent, seized the opportunity to grab the gavel and asked for a vote on Corman’s motion. 

Democrats walked off the floor and when they returned, Fetterman acknowledged freshman state Sen. Katie Muth (D) instead of starting the vote. Muth began reading a letter from John Boyd, a formerly homeless man from Philadelphia who said the state’s program was a “second chance at life.”

The outlet noted that under the state Senate’s rules, the proper procedure should have been to hold a vote on Corman’s motion.  

Corman began shouting at Fetterman to “do your job,” accusing the lieutenant governor of ignoring the Senate rules on debate. 

“Bring the chamber to order, Mr. President. It’s not a partisan job. You need to follow the rules. You need to follow the rules, Mr. President," he yelled. 

Muth, unfazed, continued to read from Boyd’s letter which described how the $200 he received each month helped him see his therapist and afford simple necessities like bus fare and toothpaste.

“The chair continues to acknowledge Senator Muth,” Fetterman said as Corman’s shouting continued.

The Democrat eventually finished reading Boyd’s statement and stepped away from the microphone.

Video of the exchange circulated on Twitter this week, racking up more than 242,000 views as of Friday.

The yelling made Corman’s voice hoarse at a Republican press conference when he continued to attack Fetterman, the outlet noted.

"When you are orchestrating that with the other party, that’s what you are becoming. You are becoming a partisan hack,” Corman said.

The Senate Republican leaders later issued a statement denouncing Democrats for the chaotic debate. 

“When our rules are not followed, chaos takes over," the Senate GOP said in its statement. “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.”

Corman’s communications director, Jennifer Kocher, elaborated on the rules issue in a statement to The Hill. 

“The Senate rules that all Senators agreed to were that Senator Corman had the floor at that time,” Kocher said. “Senator Corman was attempting to get Lt. Governor John Fetterman to listen to him and respect the rules of the institution so that normal debate could occur. The actions taken to ignore the rules of debate sets a dangerous precedent for the future of respectful discourse.” 

The bill eliminated the cash assistance program as of Aug. 1, the outlet noted, and was projected to cost $54 million in cash payments to nearly 10,000 individuals who don’t qualify for or are awaiting approval for other assistance.

The Pennsylvania Senate ultimately approved the measure by a 25-24 vote, with two Republicans siding with Democrats.

Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signed the $34 billion budget on Friday. He noted in a statement to Penn Live that even though the GOP-led legislature eliminated the general assistance program, there was an additional $15 million included for low-income housing assistance. 

"This will help a lot of the same individuals who previously received general assistance from the commonwealth. It will provide valuable resources to make sure they have a roof over their head. But there is more we can and should do to lift people out of poverty,” Wolf said in a statement. 

Wolf’s communication director J.J. Abbott told The Hill that the governor decided to sign the measure so that Philadelphia, already facing the closure of one hospital, would not risk “one of the city’s hospitals’ financial lifelines.” 

“Republicans, who control both chambers, made their determination to eliminate this program clear, despite Governor Wolf’s opposition,” Abbott told The Hill.” “In the end, Governor Wolf was able to secure additional funding for low-income housing that can help many of the same individuals. Governor Wolf would be eager to reinstate the program if the legislature became amenable to doing so.”
 

Muth tweeted after the vote and said she “won’t back down to bullies or those who try and harm others.”

“Shame on those elected officials who voted to strip away these vital resources! #Shame #MoralBudget,” she wrote.

 

- This file was updated at 5:30 p.m. to clarify the state Senate rules issue and include a statement from Corman's office.