Life isn’t always easy with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman presiding as president of the state Senate, one of his two mandated jobs as lieutenant governor. The other is to chair the Board of Pardons.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, a Republican, said a couple of days exemplify the level of “chaos” Fetterman brought to the body. He believes they highlight the disposition of the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate.
One in 2019, early on in his term. The other was in January 2021.
“It sort of goes with his personality, an anarchist, right?” said Corman. “‘I follow my own rules. I don’t follow the rules of society.’ And in my 24 years, it was the worst two days on the floor of the Senate…The institution is the most important thing and so for those two days, that institution did not have a good look and chaos ensued. And both of those days were because of him because he refused to do his job, which was being the presiding officer, to enforce the rules of the Senate.
“There’s nothing close that ever happened,” said Corman. “We’ve had arguments, we’ve had debates. We had people get upset but never where chaos presented.”
After the first incident, the Senate leadership wrote a letter to Fetterman about his behavior.
“We have rules that are adopted unanimously,” said Corman. “And obviously the job of the presiding officer, whether it be (Fetterman) or one of the members, is to follow the rules. And to make sure the rules are followed.”
The members have a chance to discuss bills and then vote on them.
“There were two different incidents where the lieutenant governor decided not to enforce the rules and apply his own sense of fairness,” said Corman. “Which then led us into chaos.”
That day there was “a motion in question,” he said. Instead of normal discussion and voting, Fetterman allowed a Democratic member to continue talking. Corman, who was the House leader, called out “Point of order.”
“When someone calls ‘point of order,’ you have to recognize that person and he (Fetterman) refused,” said Corman. “And it was just chaos because he didn’t follow the rules.”
“He is the presiding officer but he is not a member of the Senate,” said Corman. “Therefore he needs to follow the parliamentarian.”
In that letter, the senators tell Fetterman “your role…does not entitle you to usurp legislative power assigned to the members.”
They added, “Your self-righteous defiance of the Rules has scarred the institution.”
The letter also accused Fetterman of lying about the incident afterward, with the transcript belying his statements.
Another time Fetterman cast aside his duties to preside over the Senate in a nonpartisan fashion in a fit of partisan pique and tried to seat a Democrat while the election results remained under appeal.
“There was an appeal going on to resolve the matter,” said Corman. “And the Democrats wanted to seat Jim Brewster. Ultimately, there was going to be a vote in the Senate to see whether we would or would not (seat him). And the ultimate decision was to wait until the federal court ruling was rendered.” Otherwise “it would be a mockery on the Senate floor.”
But Fetterman insisted and allowed a Democratic member to keep speaking, “despite the majority saying (Brewster) should not be seated.”
“The rules of the Senate determine how we move forward and he just wouldn’t have it,” said Corman. The members voted to remove Fetterman as presiding officer for that day, he said, after he “continued to scream from the rostrum that Brewster should be seated…Sen. Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) was kind enough to walk away and say he would wait for the court ruling.”
“At that point (Fetterman) was ultimately escorted off the floor, at his request, by the sergeant at arms,” said Corman.
“We took the unprecedented move to remove him as presiding officer,” said Corman. “The presiding officer is supposed to follow the rules. He doesn’t get to make the rules. Whether he likes it or not, he doesn’t get to make the rules.”
Other governors have assigned duties to their lieutenant governors, but Gov. Tom Wolf has not “to my knowledge given him any responsibilities.”
For example, under Gov. Tom Corbett, Lt. Gov. Jim Crawley “was at every budget meeting. He was a very big part of the administration.”
But Fetterman “was never a part of anything like that.”
Fetterman did not respond to requests for comment.