As House Speaker Mike Johnson makes progress in his first test to avoid a government shutdown, his predecessor, the historically humiliating Kevin McCarthy, is being accused of shoving a fellow congressman in a “clean shot to the kidneys.”
The alleged altercation, as witnessed by an NPR reporter, sparked a chaotic chase down the halls of Congress on Tuesday, with McCarthy’s target, Tenessee Rep. Tim Burchett, one of the eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy from the speakership last month, reportedly shouting at the former speaker that he has no “guts.”
Have NEVER seen this on Capitol Hill:
While talking to @RepTimBurchett after the GOP conference meeting, former @SpeakerMcCarthy walked by with his detail and McCarthy shoved Burchett. Burchett lunged towards me. I thought it was a joke, it was not. And a chase ensued…
— Claudia Grisales (@cgrisales) November 14, 2023
“He is a bully with $17 million and a security detail,” Burchett told CNN. “He is the type of guy that when you are a kid, he would throw a rock over the fence and run home to hide behind his mama’s skirt.”
The incident, exceedingly juvenile and yet shocking, is the latest entry into Congress’ workplace hostilities—conflicts that would surely, in nearly all other professional environments, prompt swift dismissals. But even for Congress, a body of government that continues to tolerate the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene, physical altercations like the one involving McCarthy and Burchett are relatively rare. (McCarthy has since denied that it was intentional. You can read Grisales’ account above and judge for yourself.) Yet, they’re emblematic of a larger rot plaguing Congress thanks in part to lawmakers—overwhelmingly Republicans—who shitpost with abandon and take to CrossFit videos to rail against policies they don’t support. Consider that McCarthy’s incident wasn’t even the only violent threat on the Hill today.
“This is a time, this is a place. We can be two consenting adults. We can finish it here,” Sen. Markwayne Mullin, a former mixed martial arts fighter, told Teamsters president Sean O’Brien at a Senate hearing, in what appeared to be a challenge to a physical fight.
“You want to do it now? Stand your butt up then,” Mullin continued before Sen. Bernie Sanders interrupted, reminding Mullin that he was a US senator.
Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) challenges Teamsters leader Sean O’Brien to a physical fight, standing up midway through a Senate HELP Committee hearing.
Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT) repeatedly attempts to break them up: “You’re a United States senator.” pic.twitter.com/E4U624cDsS
— The Recount (@therecount) November 14, 2023
As Yale historian Joanne Freeman told Mother Jones in 2019, this blend of toxicity and strange machismo isn’t exactly new; Congress has a long history of violence, even murder. And much of these antics go back to lawmakers believing that their constituents want to see their elected officials threatening violence, which certainly resonates in our Trumpian times. As for McCarthy, the California Republican might be out of the speakership, but the doom loop of humiliation never ends.