GOP lawmaker inserts Dem colleague’s name into graphic rape scene while supporting book ban bill

Nebraska State Sen. Steve Halloran (R)
Nebraska State Sen. Steve Halloran (R) Photo: Nebraska Legislature

A Nebraska lawmaker is under fire after he inserted the name of a fellow state senator into a book’s rape scene that he was reading aloud during a hearing on an obscenity bill.

State Sen. Steve Halloran (R) was speaking in favor of L.B. 441, which its sponsor claims closes a loophole that allows educators to avoid prosecution for providing obscene materials to minors. Opponents, however, say there is no such loophole and school officials can already be prosecuted, according to the Nebraska Examiner.

As Halloran read a graphic rape scene from Lucky by Alice Sebold, he repeatedly added “Senator Cavanaugh” to the ends of sentences. Many interpreted this to mean state Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh (D), though Halloran has since claimed he was referring to Cavanaugh’s brother, John, who is also a state senator.

Social media users pointed out that the use of a colleague’s name is horrific regardless of who he was referring to.

Machaela Cavanaugh is known for her heroic weeks-long filibuster to try to prevent an anti-trans bill from passing in the state. When the bill seeking to ban gender-affirming care advanced out of committee, she vowed to filibuster every bill proposed in the unicameral legislature until the anti-trans bill was off the table.

John Cavanaugh has been a vocal opponent of the updated obscenity bill. After Halloran read the Lucky passage, John Cavanaugh said he “missed the point.”

“Yes, life is gross and very unpleasant, but that is what life is, and people who experience that want to know they’re not alone.” He also said it’s not possible to fix this bill with amendments because “it is such a mess” and “incomprehensible.”

“It is a bill to make you feel good about the fact that you don’t like these books — don’t read them.”

Machaela Cavanaugh was horrified that Halloran may have been referring to her as he read the passage, and she reportedly told him so.

“That was so out of line and unnecessary and disgusting to say my name over and over again like that,” she said in response.

“You don’t know anything about anyone else’s life, and I can tell you that women in this body have been subjected to sexual violence. I didn’t know you were capable of such cruelty. That was so unbecoming of you and unbecoming of this body, and I hope that some other people who are Republicans will stand up and defend me.”

On X, she reacted to Halloran’s claim he was referring to her brother, emphasizing that either way it was an unacceptable thing to do.

“He invoked both of our names at the start and then dropped the first name. Whichever one of us this assault was meant for does make it less horrific — though I believe it was directed at me. Men can also be victims of assault and his response is dismissive of that fact.”

State Sen. Megan Hunt (D) – the state’s first out bisexual senator and the mother of a trans child who joined Cavanaugh’s effort to filibuster the anti-trans bill – publicly called for Halloran’s resignation.

“Honestly, I think Halloran should resign,” she wrote on X. “How dare he even form his mouth to say the words ‘Give me a blow job Senator Cavanaugh.’ He said that because he wanted to say it. It was beyond the pale. Pure aggression to read a rape scene out loud and put it like that. Broken brain.”

She continued, “The problem isn’t that graphic language exists in books. The problem isn’t that rape survivors have written about their experiences. The problem is standing on a platform as a state senator, and fixing your mouth to tell one of your colleagues to give you a blow job.”

She also shared the video of the moment, saying, “People ought to see what the f**k going on in their Legislature.”

Hunt also addressed why no one spoke up against Holleran in the moment.

“Honestly it’s that fight flight or freeze which people who have experienced sexual violence understand 1000%. How dare he invoke those feelings in anybody? I’m still angry at myself for not getting up and saying something as he was doing this but everyone was just [shocked face emoji].”

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