California Senate President Kevin de León on Monday took full responsibility for a Republican senator’s controversial ejection from the floor in the Senate’s first session since the incident last week.
“Members, last Thursday was not one of the finest moments of the Senate,” de León said. “Like many of you, I was troubled and unsettled by the actions last week. As the leader of this body, I take full responsibility for what transpired and for making sure it never happens again.”
De León said all members need to understand the rules of the floor and agreed to a full review of the incident by the Rules Committee. At the conclusion of his speech, the pro tem offered Sen. Janet Nguyen, R-Garden Grove, the opportunity to make the comments she attempted to on Thursday.
Nguyen, who lost relatives to the Vietnam War and represents more than 100,000 people of Vietnamese descent in her Orange County-based district, spoke only briefly.
“Thursday’s events were shocking and distressing,” Nguyen said. “But what happened today on the floor reaffirms my faith in America’s deep belief in the democratic process and freedom of speech. I am pleased to know that my colleagues recognize, that regardless of party or differences in opinion, every district voice deserves to be heard on this floor.”
Last week, Nguyen attempted to adjourn in memory of fallen Vietnamese refugees and nationals while criticizing the late Democratic lawmaker Tom Hayden for his stance on the Vietnam War. Democrats said she was out of order and called on the sergeants-at-arms to remove her from the floor.
“This is unprecedented, unacceptable and it’s representative of a one-party-system mindset,” said Senate Republican leader Jean Fuller on Monday. “This institution is better than that.”
As the event unfolded, Democrats said Nguyen violated the rules of the house and should have made her comments during the Senate’s tribute to Hayden two days earlier. Nguyen said she chose not to speak that day out of respect for Hayden’s family in attendance and had alerted de León’s office that she intended to make her comments on Thursday.
De León’s chief of staff, Dan Reeves, sent her staff an email Wednesday warning that any statement she attempted to make about Hayden “will be ruled out of order and be rebuked by the body.” Reeves said Nguyen’s comments would “violate the rules of the house,” but he did not describe which rules would be broken.
“I understand the war had a direct, tragic and existential impact on your member, however, I’d request that she respect the rights of others to have a different perspective of that era of American foreign engagement and a respect for the many other accomplishments Senator Hayden made during decades of service to California,” Reeves wrote to Nguyen’s staff.
Reeves later clarified and said his email was in reference to Nguyen’s request to make a point of personal privilege. He said it would not be allowed because Hayden had never impugned her.
Nguyen tried to speak anyway, and Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, repeatedly asked Nguyen to sit down before calling for her removal.
Several Republicans spoke on the floor Monday about Nguyen’s treatment, calling the situation an example of “gross mismanagement” and questioning Reeves’ involvement.
“Since when does a staffer in another senator’s office dictate what we can or cannot speak on?” said Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula.
Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, said Reeves should be dismissed.
“Any apology moving forward that is short of real action of holding people accountable are just hollow words,” Anderson said. “So I’m asking that that person be held accountable to the full extent and is never allowed back in the dome again as an employee.”
After the session Thursday, Reeves said Nguyen wanted to create a scene for her district. He later said those comments were inappropriate.
“I called Sen. Nguyen’s office twice last week to offer my apologies and I asked her chief of staff earlier today to set up an appointment to apologize to her personally,” Reeves said Monday.
The incident served as a rallying cry for Republicans at the state GOP convention in Sacramento over the weekend. Some attendees wore “I stand with Janet” stickers and the party formally honored Nguyen on Saturday. Several Republican legislators and staff members continued to wear the stickers Monday.