GOP Representative Tim Burchett of Tennessee accused former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of elbowing him in the kidneys on Tuesday morning while Burchett was speaking with a reporter in the most recent indication of how tense things are in the House GOP conference.
Burchett has been harshly critical of the former speaker, and the alleged altercation is a reflection of the current pressure-cooker dynamics within the House GOP. Burchett was one of the eight Republicans who voted to remove McCarthy from office.
As he related his altercation with the former House GOP leader, in which he claims McCarthy elbowed him in the kidneys while he was speaking to a reporter in the hallway outside the GOP conference meeting, Burchett attacked McCarthy for being a “bully.”
“I got elbowed in the back and it kind of caught me off guard because it was a clean shot to the kidneys. And I turned back (and) there, there was Kevin, and for a minute I was kind of, what the heck just happened and then chased after him of course,” Burchett told CNN’s Manu Raju, adding, “Now he’s the type of guy that when you’re a kid would throw a rock over the fence and run home and hide behind his mama’s skirt.”
Burchett claimed that when he approached McCarthy about the altercation, the former speaker dismissed him. He went on to say that McCarthy answered him with “that high-pitched kind of thing” after he “raised his voice.”
“Of course, as he always … does, he just denies it or blames somebody else or something. And and it was just a little heated. But I just backed off because – I saw no reason. I wasn’t gaining anything from it. Everybody saw it. So it didn’t really matter,” he told CNN.
McCarthy told CNN that he didn’t push or elbow the man, denying the incident multiple times. It’s a narrow hallway.
McCarthy refuted claims that he struck Burchett during a protracted quip later on Tuesday.
“If I hit somebody, they would know it,” he said. “If I kidney punched someone, they would be on the ground.”
There’s a lot of tension on Capitol Hill. Sen. Markwayne Mullin, a Republican from Oklahoma, challenged a witness in front of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee to a fistfight on Tuesday.
It was abruptly stopped by Chairman Bernie Sanders, who chastised Mullin and reminded him that he is a US senator and not a cage match competitor.
The Vermont independent subsequently told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the exchange was “pretty pathetic” and detracted from the Senate hearing, which was centered around the initiatives of labor unions.
Burchett dismissed McCarthy’s claims that the incident was accidental and that the hallway was too small when questioned about them.
“There’s 435 congressmen, I was one of the eight that voted against him. That hallway was – there’s plenty of room, you could walk four side by side. He chose to do what he did. And you know, it’ll end right here. I’m sure it’ll just be a little asterisk on his storied career,” he said.
Later on Tuesday, the Tennessee Republican persisted in refuting McCarthy’s assertion that the incident was an accident, telling CNN’s Raju: “At first, McCarthy denied that it had occurred. He continued, saying, “He just brushed into me.” Then he mentioned how packed the hall was.
The last thing he said was that he would have known if he had hit him. So make your choice; it makes no difference. Since he’s shown a history of this kind of behavior, I don’t really care. And it merely demonstrates why he is not required to speak.
Burchett said he would accept the former speaker’s call and forgive him, but he and McCarthy haven’t spoken since the incident, he told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on Tuesday night.
He has previously declared that he thinks McCarthy, who has not yet indicated whether or not he will remain in the House, will be gone by the next Congress and accused the former speaker of using his sizeable campaign fund to meddle in member elections.
In recent weeks, there has been tension between the two Republican lawmakers. McCarthy expressed his surprise to CNN at Burchett’s vote to remove him from office last month. Prior to the vote, Burchett claimed that McCarthy had been patronizing regarding the Tennessee Republican’s admission that he was considering whether to vote to remove McCarthy.
The incident on Tuesday occurred at a time when House members have been in session for ten straight weeks, and tensions are at an all-time high.
During his press conference on Tuesday, House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana, stated that the Thanksgiving holiday would enable members to go back home and “cool off.”
GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida is reportedly filing a formal ethics complaint against McCarthy over the alleged altercation with Burchett, a sign that some of McCarthy’s detractors want to take the issue further. CNN was able to obtain a copy of the document.
Although Gaetz, one of McCarthy’s main rivals and the driving force behind the effort to remove him from office as speaker, was not present for the exchange, anyone may report anything to the House Ethics Committee. Although that’s “not a direction I was going in,” Burchett stated that he “appreciates” Gaetz having his back. Invoking their “duty to investigate,” Gaetz charged McCarthy with transgressing the members’ code of conduct.
Gaetz was one of the eight Republicans who voted to remove McCarthy from office as speaker. McCarthy recently went after the group in an interview with CNN, specifically mentioning Gaetz and pointing out that the House Ethics Committee is looking into him. Gaetz is now intensifying their conflict with this most recent grievance.