On Tuesday, January 5, the swearing-in ceremony of the Pennsylvania State Senate turned into a tense situation as Republicans in the state Senate blocked a Democratic senator from taking his oath of office and disqualified the Democratic lieutenant governor from his oversight position.
Republicans in the chamber made a motion to not seat state Democratic Sen. Jim Brewster, whose narrow victory in November is being contested by his GOP opponent even though the Pennsylvania Department of State certified his win.
The state GOP took the unusual step of taking control of the proceedings from him when Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman objected to the motion demanding that Brewster be sworn in.
GOP state Sen. Ryan Aument submitted the motion not to seat Brewster until “such time as the Senate had the capacity for further discussion of the contest petition.”
However, Aument charged, after Fetterman failed to accept the motion, “It is your duty to put a motion adequately before this body. If you insist on continuing to perform your duties, the Senate would attempt to replace you with the interim president pro tempore.”
At the same time, in front of the house, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, a Republican, approached Fetterman before informing the body as the new presiding officer.
As Corman started to speak, however, Sen. Anthony Williams of the Democratic State gave a fiery reply, loudly announcing:’ Mr. President, I object totally to this.’
This is unacceptable. You are breaking the Commonwealth Constitution and rules and breaching the oath of office you have already taken.
There is nothing that is acceptable about this day; nothing. We can not sit back and roll over because on the side of the aisle you have former citizens. This is about Pennsylvania, not Democrats or Republicans. This is about Pennsylvania.
This is not only about winning, it is about our democracy being secured. That’s what it is here.
We will neevr participate in this farce.
Fetterman continued to remain at the rostrum staring down on Corman until finally leaving the chamber as new members were sworn in, with the exception of Brewster, when the Republican majority began a roll call to formally expel Fetterman from the presidency.
In a statement, Governor Tom Wolf, who referred to the incident, said:
This is a shameful seizure of power which disgraces the institution.
Leaving the district without a voice solely because the Republicans do not like the result of the election is simply immoral and undemocratic.
This election has been determined by voters, not Harrisburg officials, and Sen. Brewster is the rightful winner.
All ballots were counted and certified, and the results are accurate. Sen. Brewster received the most votes in this race and should be sworn in as the Senator for the 45th District. There is no precedent, and no legal rationale, for failing to do so.
Brewster gained reelection narrowly over Nicole Ziccarelli, a Republican challenger, who is asking a federal judge to throw out the election results.
Several hundred mail ballots that lacked a handwritten date on an external envelope, as mandated by state law, are at the heart of the court case. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania allowed those ballots to be counted, which gave the edge in the race to Brewster.