Fight club explodes on Capitol Hill | ET REALITY


The former Republican Party chairman elbowed one of the Republicans who had voted to unseat him. A Republican senator rose to challenge an organized labor leader to a fight during a hearing. Across the Capitol, the chairman of a different panel compared a member of his committee to a cartoon character.

Tensions rose on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, as the marble halls of Congress became a backdrop for heated confrontations, some of them physical, between lawmakers racing to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the week and save your Thanksgiving holiday.

The fights were the latest show of rebellion from a branch of government that has spent much of the year wallowing in its own dysfunction, emerging only long enough to narrowly avoid a federal debt default and funding failure. of the government. This week seemed to be one of those times — the House was expected to pass a temporary bill Tuesday afternoon to avoid a shutdown at the end of the week — but lawmakers continued to misbehave.

It all started early Tuesday morning, when former President Kevin McCarthy clashed with Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, one of eight Republicans who voted to remove him from office last month, in the basement of the Capitol. Burchett said he had been talking to reporters in a hallway after a party talk when McCarthy elbowed him in the back and then continued walking.

“It was just a cheap shot from a bully,” Burchett later said. “And then I chased him. And we had some words.”

A journalist who witnessed the incident. posted an account on social media corroborating the story. But McCarthy denied there had been an altercation and told reporters that he had simply been passing Burchett in a narrow, crowded hallway.

Still, the vitriol of the exchange — Burchett ran after McCarthy calling him a “moron,” a “chicken” and “pathetic” — reflects the hostility that is still simmering within the fragmented Republican conference. The right-wing anger that led to McCarthy’s ouster continues to rage, while the former president and his top allies remain furious over his impeachment.

But the breakdown of decorum was not limited to the House. Across the Capitol complex, at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., challenged a top union leader to a physical fight.

Mullin and Sean O’Brien, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, have been feuding on social media. Mr. Mullin read aloud one of Mr. O’Brien’s posts calling him a “clown” and a “fraud” and challenging him to a “cowboy anywhere, anytime” confrontation.

“Lord, this is a time, this is a place.” Mr. Mullin said to Mr. O’Brien. from the stand. “We can do it here.”

“Okay, perfect,” Mr. O’Brien responded, adding, “I’d love to do it right now.”

“Well, then stand up,” said Mullin, a former mixed martial arts fighter, rising from his chair and reaching to remove his wedding ring in apparent preparation to throw a punch.

As the two men yelled at each other, Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and chairman of the panel, intervened and repeatedly told Mullin to return to his chair.

“You’re a United States Senator! Please sit down,” he said, wagging his finger as Mullin and O’Brien continued talking from the other side of the courtroom. “Wait!” Mr. Sanders shouted, slamming his gavel.

The morning altercations continued into the afternoon, when Reps. James R. Comer, R-Ky., and Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., got into an expletive-laden shouting match during an Oversight Committee hearing while discussing personal finances. of the president. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.

When Moskowitz pointed to reports about Comer’s own financial dealings with members of his family, Comer called the Florida Democrat, who wore a blue suit and blue tie, a liar, adding, “You look like a Smurf.”

Some Capitol Hill veterans attributed the foolishness to the patience of lawmakers who have been asked to work around the clock for weeks at a time, an unusual phenomenon in Congress, where recesses are frequent.

“Today is another example of why Congress should not be in session for five weeks straight,” said Doug Andres, a spokesman for Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the longtime minority leader. wrote in X. “Strange things happen.”

There are deeper reasons too.

In the weeks since President Mike Johnson was elected to succeed McCarthy, a heralded moment of unity, the same Republican fissures that led to McCarthy’s ouster have once again erupted into public view. The temporary spending bill that Johnson is pushing, and that the House is set to consider, has none of the spending cuts or policy changes that far-right Republicans had wanted.

By the end of the day, Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican who forced the vote to oust McCarthy, had come out against the spending plan and also filed an ethics complaint against the former president for the alleged assault on Burchett.

Tempers were clearly on the new speaker’s mind during a news conference Tuesday morning, when he told reporters, “This place is a pressure cooker.”

He said he hoped the quick passage of the spending measure followed by a week away from Washington would do his party good.

“This will allow everyone to come home for a couple of days for Thanksgiving,” he said. “Everyone can cool off.”

Kayla Guo contributed with reports.

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