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Tim Ryan berates GOP over labor bill: ‘Stop talking about Dr. Seuss and start working with us’

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) on March 10 slammed Republicans for talking about Dr. Seuss instead of "working with us on behalf of American workers." (Video: The Washington Post)

Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan once chided Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during a presidential primary debate by quietly noting, “You don’t have to yell.” Ryan leaned into the moment, turning the phrase into a slogan printed on bumper stickers for his supporters to display in 2019.

On Tuesday, though, the congressman decided to ignore his own advice as he eviscerated the GOP for largely opposing a bill to expand protections for organized labor, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or Pro Act.

“Heaven forbid we pass something that’s going to help the damn workers in the United States of America! Heaven forbid we tilt the balance that has been going in the wrong direction for 50 years!” Ryan shouted from a lectern on the House floor on Tuesday. “Now, stop talking about Dr. Seuss, and start working with us on behalf of the American workers.”

The Democrat’s fiery speech, which went viral on Twitter with one video drawing more than 2 million views by early Wednesday, slammed conservatives who last week blamed “cancel culture” for a publisher’s decision to stop producing a handful of Seuss books with racist imagery but refused to consider the Pro Act on Tuesday.

“In the late ’70s, a CEO made 35 times the worker. Today it’s three [hundred] to 400 times the worker,” Ryan said. “And our friends on the other side [are] running around with their hair on fire.”

Republicans, though, quickly borrowed from Ryan’s presidential debate tactics to respond to the raucous speech. “Mr. Speaker, I’m using my inside voice,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said immediately after Ryan’s address.

The viral moment highlighted how culture war disputes — from “cancel culture” to polarizing responses about the Capitol riot — fueled several tense exchanges on the U.S. House floor on Tuesday as lawmakers debated the Pro Act.

The legislation would expand collective bargaining rights, add penalties for employers who violate labor laws and weaken “right-to-work” laws in 27 states that do not require workers to join or pay dues to unions. President Biden has expressed support for the bill, but it faces a difficult path ahead in the evenly divided Senate.

The bill’s supporters argue that the legislation will improve working conditions and give employees more power in workplace disputes. Its opponents say the proposal endangers worker privacy, threatens free speech and serves labor leaders’ interests.

But Tuesday’s debate at times veered away from the text of the bill — and Ryan was not the only lawmaker with a feisty reprimand.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) suggested the Republican Party had tried to “falsely rebrand” itself as the “party of working people.” The congressman dismissed the notion with biting sarcasm.

“Please, if you are the party of working people, then I’m a stunt double doppelganger for Brad Pitt,” Pocan said. “I hope you enjoyed me in the ‘Fight Club.’”

Republicans struck back at Democrats with equal vigor. Foxx denounced the bill’s fast-track to a vote, although a similar bill had been proposed and workshopped in the past. She slammed the rush to pass the Pro Act as an attempt to “hide the Democrat’s socialist agenda.”

Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) suggested the bill would lead to a resurgence of union-connected criminals like a group of ironworkers from Philadelphia who faced federal charges in 2014 for assault, arson and destruction of property. “They’re prone to violence, and if you live in Philadelphia, you just go back to ‘The Helpful Union Guys,’ ” Perry said, referring to the ironworkers’ nickname, “the Thugs.”

The next speaker, Rep. Donald W. Norcross (D-N.J.) rebuked Perry, who has repeated false claims contesting the presidential election results that fueled the violent insurrection at the Capitol in January.

“The thugs? Are those the friends of the folks who attacked this Capitol? Is that who you’re talking about?” Norcross asked in response to Perry. “Those are thugs.”

Ryan, who is eyeing a possible run for one of Ohio’s Senate seats in 2022, later said he did not regret raising his voice to Republicans on the House floor.

“Feels good to lose your voice for something you believe in,” he said on Twitter.

Ultimately, the Pro Act passed the House, largely along party lines. Five Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the bill, while just one Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, voted against it.

But with Democrats narrowly controlling the Senate, the bill will likely face a filibuster that could kill its chances of moving forward.