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California State Senator Removed From Floor During Speech

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

In 2016, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, congratulated Sen. Janet Nguyen, R-Fountain Valley, on the approval of her nail salon bill. On Feb. 23, 2017, Lara ordered Nguyen removed from the Senate floor for her speech criticizing a former colleague.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

In an extraordinary moment of political incivility in California, a Democratic state Senator ordered security to remove his Republican colleague from the floor of the chamber Thursday.

It started when Senator Janet Nguyen, an Orange County Republican, began speaking, first in Vietnamese and then English. Earlier in the week, lawmakers had honored former Senator Tom Hayden, who was a prominent anti-Vietnam War activist, who led controversial protests in Hanoi during the conflict. Nguyen fled Vietnam as a child in the 1980s.

"Today, I recognize ... hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees who died seeking freedom and democracy," she said.

Democrats lodged a procedural objection, but Nguyen continued to talk.

"Senator Nguyen, you are out of order, if you can please take a seat," presiding Senator Ricardo Lara told her and cut off her microphone.

He would repeat variations of that phrase for a minute, while Nguyen continued to speak. Lara then directed the Senate sergeants-at-arms:

"Please have Senator Nguyen take a seat, she is out of order."

Then: "Sergeants, please remove Senator Nguyen from the chamber."

They took the Senator by her arms and escorted her out.

Afterward, Republican Senate leader Jean Fuller described herself as enraged.

"Her free speech was violated, as well as all of the hundreds of thousands of refugees that she was speaking for on the floor today," Fuller said.

Republicans quickly took to Twitter with the hashtag #shepersisted--the same one Democrats used this month when U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren was cut off in remarks against then-Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions.

Democratic lawmakers argued Nguyen caused the problem by violating Senate rules, but Senate leader Kevin de León also said he would review the response.

"I am unsettled across the board," De León said. "Not following the rules--the parliamentary procedures that could have been dealt with quite easily--and just the way it was handled."

Neither veteran Capitol staff nor a search of news archives can recall a similar, previous event in the Legislature.

Republicans also alleged that Democratic Senators were withholding the video of the incident, because the CalChannel did not immediately post it, but the broadcaster operates independently and had been experiencing technical difficulties since Wednesday.

CalChannel staff says those technical problems were the reason it did not immediately post the video. Another version became available shortly after session on the Senate website.