The factional fights making the Missouri Senate a public spectacle are bad enough that Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin told reporters Thursday that she’d vote to expel the leader of the Freedom Caucus from the chamber.
Speaking to the assembled editors and publishers from the Missouri Press Association during their annual visit to the Capitol, O’Laughlin noted that expelling a senator takes 23 votes of the 34-member chamber.
“Two years ago, I said with 23 votes, you can throw somebody out of here,” she said. “And I would do it today.”
Asked who she meant, O’Laughlin named Sen. Bill Eigel.
“I would have to have 23 votes and get 23 votes, I’ll have to get some Democrats to vote for it and then I’ll have to give up something big,” O’Laughlin said. “So….everything here is a trade off you know.”
Soon after the remarks were reported on social media by The Independent, the door to the Senate Lounge, where O’Laughlin was speaking, opened and a Senate doorman said Eigel wanted to talk to her on the floor.
She said she was busy and not available.
A few moments later, the door opened again. Again, O’Laughlin was being summoned to answer questions from Eigel.
“Well, I am busy, so tell him I am not here,” she replied.
When her time was up, and she returned to the floor, she found an angry Eigel demanding to know if what had been reported was true.
“I am not the first senator willing to stand up for my principles and I’ll stay here till Christmas if I have to,” Eigel said.
“I don’t think at anytime, in this chamber, anyone has tied up the floor and stopped every senator from advancing their bills more than you,” O’Laughlin responded.
After repeatedly asking O’Laughlin if she would vote to expel him from the Senate, Eigel got his answer.
“I’d vote for it, yeah,” she said. “I absolutely would.”
Eigel and the other five members of the Freedom Caucus have filibustered almost every day since the session began on Jan. 3.
On Tuesday, Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden removed the four members he described as “swamp creatures” from committee chairmanships, a move that also cut their office budgets by $10,000 each. Some also had their parking reassigned from the Capitol basement garage.
Rowden said that of 17 hours and 52 minutes the Senate has been in session so far this year, members of the Freedom Caucus have held the floor for 16 hours and 45 minutes for “filibusters of things of no consequence whatsoever relative to a piece of policy.”
Eigel, a candidate for governor, and other members of the Freedom Caucus are demanding that the Senate do no other business until a measure making it harder to amend the constitution through the initiative petition process passes the Senate.
The filibusters have delayed confirmation for 42 appointments made by Gov. Mike Parson.
Rowden tried to break the impasse by referring every bill filed this session – about 500 pieces of legislation – to committees.
That wasn’t enough and the filibuster resumed to block the appointees Thursday afternoon.
“It was meant to be a show of good faith that obviously wasn’t greeted in kind,” Rowden told reporters at a news conference after the Senate adjourned for the week .
Democrats have stayed silent during the floor fights. Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo of Independence said at a news conference that his caucus is eager to fight over the policy bills, not sit and watch Republicans tear the Senate down.
“We’re all supposed to be jubilant that Republicans are fighting each other,” Rizzo said. “But you know, it’s hard to watch the Senate die.”
Asked if Democrats would join O’Laughlin in voting to expel Eigel, Rizzo said he would not and would not recommend it to his caucus.
“I would advise them to not support removing someone from the chamber that was duly elected,” Rizzo said.
The only people the disputes are helping, Rizzo said, are attention-seekers who want a higher office.
“It’s about gaining more power. It’s about raising the temperature so the cameras stay on them,” Rizzo. “It’s screaming on the floor. It’s pointing at the floor leader. It’s everybody texting me about how insane this is and look at this and look at that. In the meantime, single moms are trying to make ends meet.”
Along with trench warfare in the Senate, Rowden and O’Laughlin are taking fire from a handful of local GOP committees backing Freedom Caucus members.
Since the ouster, the county Republican central committees in Boone, Camden, Cass, Saline, Perry, St. Charles and Vernon counties have issued statements demanding Rowden and O’Laughlin resign their leadership positions.
Boone County is where Rowden lives. The letter stated members were “thoroughly disgusted and appalled” by the first three weeks of the session.
“So far, the 2024 session has been highlighted by the childish, immature behavior on the part of the Senate leadership,” the letter from the Boone County central committee states.
State Rep. Cheri Reisch of Hallsville, vice chair of the Boone County GOP, said the vote in favor of the letter appeared unanimous at a meeting Tuesday, although she noted that several members were absent.
“A lot of people in Boone County and Missouri are unhappy with the Senate and the leadership that there are Republican caucus priorities, such as (initiative petition) reform that should have gotten done last year and should be made the first priority this year and people talk about education choice that wasn’t done in the Senate last year,” Reisch said. “And we have yet to see anything.”
Rowden said on the Senate floor that he expects his home county GOP to revisit the decision to send the letter.
“I have heard from numerous members of the Boone County Central Committee who said the letter was never supposed to be made public and it will be retracted in a few days,” Rowden said.
During the Freedom Caucus news conference, Sen. Rick Brattin of Harrisonville said the backing from local committees was validation of the caucus’ tactics.
“They are, by and large, in favor of what we’re doing, and the senator from Boone’s own county has reprimanded him, expecting and wanting him to resign because of his failed leadership,” Brattin said.
The Freedom Caucus has struck fear into Senate leaders, Brattin said.
“You even saw today, the saber rattling of wanting to expel a member of this chamber,” he said. “How outrageous. How far are the lengths they will go to silence, really, the voice of the people of this state.”
If the hold on Parson’s nominees is intended to get him to take sides, it hasn’t been successful.
Parson also spoke to the editors during a luncheon for the press association Thursday. He said he is trying to stay out of the Senate fight.
There are ways to salvage the appointments if no action is taken next week, he said, but it is up to the chamber to solve its problems. In the meantime, he said, it disrespects the appointees, many of whom were named to boards or commissions that do not pay a salary.
Parson could withdraw the appointees to avoid a constitutional rule that requires appointments made before the session to be approved within 30 days. But that move requires the Senate to agree.
If the appointees are not withdrawn or approved before the deadline, they would be barred for life from being appointed again to the same position.
“The point of it is, they’re not doing anything wrong, nobody has anything against them, yet they’re in the crossfire of what’s going on here politically, internally, and that’s not right,” Parson said. “It’s simply not right.”
Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: [email protected]. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.