These days, many Washington politicians are unafraid to take verbal shots at one another over legislative discord, whether it’s on social media or on cable network shows. But long gone are the days when politicians would threaten to settle rivalries with duels.
So it was a throwback when Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Republican from Corpus Christi, Tex., on Friday criticized some Republican “female senators from the Northeast” for their opposition to efforts to pass a health care overhaul.
Then, he said, “if it was a guy from south Texas I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style.”
Speaking to local radio host Bob Jones, Farenthold was referring to the 1804 duel in which Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, former treasury secretary and Burr’s long-standing political rival and personal enemy.
Farenthold, who has experienced a fair share of controversies over women’s issues and his interactions with women, did not mention any of these senators by name. But three Republican female senators have been key holdouts from the GOP’s current Obamacare “repeal and replace” proposal: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).
However, the only senator from the Northeast among the three is Collins, a centrist who vocally opposed the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act for cutting Medicaid in ways she says would hurt rural and vulnerable Americans, as The Washington Post reported.
“In twenty years in the Senate, I have had a lot of people make suggestions about how to resolve legislative disputes, but until today nobody had ever suggested a duel,” Collins said in a statement following news of Farenthold’s remarks.
“And as I far as I know,” she later added, according to the Associated Press, “dueling is illegal in every state. He’ll be disappointed, I guess.”
Farenthold later told the Dallas Morning News and other news outlets that his remarks were “clearly tongue in cheek.” He said that like President Trump, he is “sick and tired of the left-wing biased media trying to make something out of nothing.”
“That being said,” he added, “I’m extremely frustrated with Senate Republicans who are breaking their promise to the American people to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
During the 1800s, duels were one of the most common causes of violent death for legislators, according to the Atlantic. In 1831, Spencer Pettis, a House member from Missouri, was shot and killed in a duel with Thomas Biddle, an Army officer, on a Mississippi River sandbar known as “Bloody Island.” In 1838, a Kentucky member of the House, William Graves, killed Rep. Jonathan Cilley of Maine.
Following his death, Congress passed a law prohibiting duels in the District of Columbia. Still, in 1859, another deadly duel ensued in California: The state’s chief justice, David Terry, shot and killed Sen. David Broderick (D-Calif.) in a duel south of San Francisco spurred by a dispute over slavery.
Farenthold’s remarks were not the first time the congressman has come under fire for comments involving women.
In October, after a video obtained by The Post showed Trump making vulgar sexual comments about women, an MSNBC anchor asked Farenthold if he would continue to endorse Trump if a tape surfaced of him saying he liked to rape women.
“That would be bad,” Farenthold said. “I would have to consider it.”
He later apologized for his “failure to immediately condemn anyone who would say something as outrageous as they like raping women.”
Two years earlier, Farenthold was sued by his former communications director for creating an awkward work environment and allegedly making sexual comments to and about her. The lawsuit alleged Farenthold drank heavily at political functions and “regularly made comments designed to gauge” whether the former aide was interested in a sexual relationship.
The sexual harassment suit was later settled out of court. Farenthold, a married father of two, vehemently and repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
When he first ran for Congress, a photo circulated of Farenthold smiling for the camera wearing rubber ducky pajamas standing next to a young waitress in lingerie.
That photo has followed him through the years, and in 2015 he told the Houston Chronicle “a week doesn’t go by it doesn’t show up on Twitter.”
On Monday, across social media and news stories, the duck pajamas appeared once again.