The Washington Post

Senate might huddle in old chamber on ‘nuclear’ option — but remember the room’s violent past

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

But before they order in the catering, senators might want to think about the history of that space and what that might augur. Sure, it was the site of some of the chamber’s finest moments, including a meeting of both parties before the impeachment trial of President Clinton in which the sides agreed to a plan.

But the Old Senate Chamber might best be known as a den of artifice and violence.

These days, the chamber is most often used by senators for staging shoots of themselves being sworn into office (no photos are allowed on the real Senate floor where the actual oath-taking takes place). So, there’s a strong tradition of fakery.

And then there’s the fact that it’s the scene of the most spectacular example of Congress-on-Congress violence.

Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina bludgeoned Sen. Charles Sumner with a cane in 1856, after Sumner insulted the congressman’s cousin. Sumner spent three years recovering from the blows.

Per the Senate historian’s office: “The caning of Senator Sumner signalled the end of an era of compromise and sectional accommodation in the Senate, further heightening the discord that culminated in war.”

But, hey, sounds like a promising place for some productive peace talks!

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.

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