Tuesday was not a banner day for Republican behavior in Congress — even more so than usual. Republican congressman James Comer told a Democratic congressman who questioned him about business ties that he looked like a Smurf. An Oklahoma senator appeared to be on the verge of fighting a testifying Teamster until Bernie Sanders intervened.
But the dust-up between Kevin McCarthy and Tim Burchett, which by the afternoon had devolved into McCarthy bragging about his punching ability, took the cake for childish antics.
The silliness began when McCarthy allegedly shoved Burchett, a Republican congressman from Tennessee who had voted to oust the former House Speaker. The incident was captured by an NPR reporter at the U.S. Capitol.
In audio of the incident, Burchett can be heard shouting, “Why’d you elbow me in the back, Kevin? Hey Kevin, you got any guts?” Burchett proceeded to pursue McCarthy down the hall with the reporter following behind still recording.
Burchett eventually caught up with McCarthy and repeated his question. In the audio, McCarthy, who is not known for his truth-telling, can be heard laughing, saying, “I didn’t elbow you in the back.”
“You did so! The reporter said it right there. What kind of chicken move is that? You’re pathetic, man. You are so pathetic,” Burchett responded.
Burchett confirmed that the incident occurred in an interview with CNN, saying that McCarthy delivered a “clean shot to the kidneys,” which he characterized as cowardly.
“He’s a bully with $17 million dollars and a security detail. He’s the type of guy when you’re a kid would throw a rock over the fence and run home and hide behind his mama’s skirt,” he said.
McCarthy later told reporters that he did not intentionally hit Burchett, indicating that his massive, manly strength would make it obvious in such a case. “If I hit somebody, they would know it. If I kidney punched someone, they would be on the ground,” he said, per the Associated Press.
Recent animus between McCarthy and Burchett has been well-documented. Burchett was one of the eight Republican members to vote to remove McCarthy as Speaker of the House, a move he says was in response to a “condescending” remark from McCarthy regarding his faith after Burchett, a devout Christian, indicated that he would be praying about his ultimate decision on House leadership.
“When I make a statement that I’m praying about it, I am praying about it, and when I get a call from the Speaker and he belittles that, to me, that shows another reason why we need a change in leadership,” Burchett told reporters prior to the vote, CNN reported.
McCarthy, for his part, claims he had no intention of maligning Burchett’s faith. “I simply read his quote back. I thought there was still an opening and I wanted to talk to him about it,” he said, according to The Hill.
The former Speaker’s tone changed after the successful vote to oust him with McCarthy taking aim at his eight detractors.
“They care a lot about press, not about policy, and so they seem to just want the press and the personality,” he said.
To cap off this day of trollishness, master troll Congressman Matt Gaetz, who orchestrated the motion to force out McCarthy, filed a House Ethics complaint against him, claiming that the former Speaker violated the House’s Code of Conduct.
“This Congress has seen a substantial increase in breaches of decorum unlike anything we have seen since the pre–Civil War era. I myself have been a victim of outrageous conduct on the House floor as well, but nothing like an open and public assault on a Member, committed by another Member,” he wrote. “The rot starts at the top.” While Gaetz no doubt cares deeply about decorum, it sure looks like this is really about rubbing salt in the wounds of his political nemesis.
Perhaps this entire congressional caucus will mature by Wednesday. More likely there will be further simultaneously entertaining and depressing fireworks to come.