The House GOP’s Descent Into Childish Infighting

From a Washington Post analysis by Aaron Blake headlined “An ugly scene highlights House GOP’s descent into childish infighting”:

Three weeks ago, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) declared as he was elevated to that role, “This conference that you see — this House Republican majority — is united.”

On Tuesday, Johnson’s predecessor, Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) featured in an angry and allegedly physical altercation — for the second time this year. The scene played out even as their fellow House Republicans continued to hurl childish insults at one another.

The event added to the evidence that the House GOP, despite its efforts to right the ship following McCarthy’s ouster, continues to devolve into a level of juvenile infighting rarely seen in modern American politics.

NPR’s Claudia Grisales reported Tuesday morning that she witnessed McCarthy shoving Burchett, one of eight Republicans who voted to oust him last month and whom McCarthy has criticized strongly since then. She said it caused Burchett to “lunge” forward.

The Washington Post’s Marianna Sotomayor reported that Burchett asked McCarthy, “Why did you walk behind me and elbow me in the back?” McCarthy denied it and, as Burchett followed him yelling, said, “Oh, my god.” Burchett then slowed his steps so he was no longer directly behind McCarthy and called McCarthy “pathetic.”

Grisales reported that Burchett also told McCarthy, “You need security, Kevin!”

Burchett later told CNN it was a “clean shot to the kidneys” and that he was still in pain. He compared McCarthy to a child who would throw a rock and then “hide behind his mama’s skirt.” McCarthy later told reporters he didn’t shove Burchett or intentionally contact him: “If I kidney-punched someone, they would be on the ground.” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has filed an ethics complaint against McCarthy over the alleged altercation.

Remarkably, Burchett and McCarthy were also present during a physical altercation earlier this year on the House floor.

Burchett was between McCarthy and Gaetz as they argued over Gaetz’s refusal to vote for McCarthy’s bid for speaker. Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.) ultimately showed up, leaning over Burchett in Gaetz’s direction, and had to be physically restrained. McCarthy walked away from the scene.

Tuesday’s flap between McCarthy and Burchett is particularly remarkable, given it was allowed to take place in the presence of reporters. But the bad blood has been developing for weeks, and McCarthy gives the appearance of being out for revenge.

After McCarthy’s ouster, Burchett suggested that the congressman had belittled his Christian faith while seeking his vote — an accusation McCarthy flatly rejected. McCarthy in that post-ouster news conference and a CNN interview that aired over the weekend continued to suggest Burchett and the other seven who voted to oust him were unprincipled and just out for attention. Burchett told CNN in response that McCarthy was “bitter.”

But this is merely the latest example of a House GOP riven with dissension and often looking more like high school than a decorous and deliberative legislative chamber:

Shortly before that scene played out Tuesday morning, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) “lacks the maturity and the experience to understand” her effort to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Greene responded on X by saying that Issa “lacks…” and then posting emojis of various types of balls.

Greene recently called Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) “vaping groping Lauren,” alluding to Boebert being caught doing both in a public theater. Her office this summer also confirmed that she called Boebert a “little b—-” on the House floor.

Greene has also called former colleagues in the House Freedom Caucus (from which she was ousted) “Colonel Sanders” and a “CNN wannabe.”

One of those members Greene insulted, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), recently cited Greene’s “feckless” censure resolution against Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), calling it “deeply flawed.” Greene had used the same f-word while publicly listing the Republicans who voted against the resolution.

Roy later told Greene to “go chase so-called Jewish space lasers if she wants to spend time on that sort of thing” — a reference to one of Greene’s wild conspiracy theories.

Boebert has also dug at Greene for this.

Indicted Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) recently cited the arrest of Rep. Steve Womack’s (R-Ark.) son before apologizing.

McCarthy in the CNN interview this past weekend left open the possibility of expelling Gaetz and suggested Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) doesn’t deserve reelection.

Former congressman and now-Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), a McCarthy ally, recently made suggestive comments about Gaetz, who was investigated in a sex-trafficking probe but was not charged.

Both McCarthy and Rep. Jason T. Smith (R-Mo.) have accused Gaetz of constantly lying.

Gaetz, in turn, made suggestive comments about Smith’s personal life.

Congress has at times devolved into heated scenes, including on the floor. Violence was relatively common in the pre-Civil War era. And some House Republicans have even suggested that the scene in January during the speaker debate was a sign of healthy disagreement.

Whether the American voters who gave Republicans control of the House agree is an increasingly pertinent question.

Aaron Blake is senior political reporter, writing for The Fix. A Minnesota native, he has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Hill newspaper.

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