The incident became an instant political firestorm in a capital still getting used to Trump's young administration. But more fundamentally, the dispute underscored the profound -- and personal -- anger flowing through Washington in the aftermath of last year's election and reflects a nation torn in half by bitter political divides.
With the Senate poisoned, the House in the grip of a zealous GOP majority and a new president who only knows one political strategy -- all-out personal attack -- there is every reason to think the animosity will continue to boil. Some seasoned Washington observers are starting to believe that for once, Beltway nastiness really has hit a historic nadir.
"It has very seldom been worse," said Steven Smith, a congressional expert who wrote the 2014 book "The Senate Syndrome" about what he considers a period of rising parliamentary warfare in the chamber.
There have, of course, been dark moments in Washington's legislative corridors, including a brutal beating of a Massachusetts senator in the Senate chamber several years before the Civil War after he delivered a blistering attack on slavery.