By Moira Warburton and David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Tensions among Republicans in the U.S. Congress boiled over on Tuesday, with one lawmaker accusing the ousted House speaker of elbowing him in the kidney, while a Senate Republican challenged a union leader to a fight during a hearing.
Republican Representative Tim Burchett accused Kevin McCarthy, who was ousted as Speaker of the House of Representatives early last month, of elbowing him in an incident at the Capitol that was witnessed by a National Public Radio reporter who also recorded audio of the exchange.
“Why’d you elbow me in the back, Kevin?” said Burchett, according to audio released by NPR. “What kind of chicken move is that? You’re pathetic, man. You are so pathetic.”
McCarthy later denied having elbowed Burchett, one of eight Republicans who engineered the removal of McCarthy from leadership.
“I didn’t punch anybody,” McCarthy told reporters, adding, “If I hit somebody, they would know I hit them.”
“It kinda caught me off guard because it was a clean shot to the kidneys,” Burchett later told CNN. “You just don’t expect a guy who was at one time three steps away from the White House to hit you with a sucker punch in the hallway.”
The altercation came at a time of escalating violent rhetoric by Republican politicians, including Donald Trump – the frontrunner for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination.
The McCarthy-Burchett disagreement occurred on the same day that U.S. Senator Markwayne Mullin rose from his seat and challenged Teamsters President Sean O’Brien to a fight, before the committee chair stepped in defuse the confrontation.
The verbal sparring began after Mullin, an Oklahoma Republican, paraphrased from a June tweet posted by O’Brien about the senator: “What a clown, a fraud. Always has been, always will be. Quit the tough guy act in these Senate hearings. You know where to find me. Any place, anytime cowboy.”
Mullin finished with an offer to fight O’Brien at the hearing.
“Sir, this is a time, this is a place, if you want to run your mouth, we can be two consenting adults, we can finish it here,” he said, while pointing to the floor separating the two.
O’Brien responded, “OK that’s fine, perfect … You stand your butt up, big guy.”
Mullin then rose from his seat and moved to remove his wedding ring.
‘WE’RE NOT 12 YEARS OLD’
At that point Senator Bernie Sanders, who was chairing the hearing with union presidents, said to Mullin: “You’re a United States senator, sit down.”
Mullin, a former professional mixed martial arts fighter, later in the hearing challenged O’Brien again to fight for charity in April.
O’Brien rejected the offer.
“It should never come to that,” O’Brien told Reuters. “We’re not 12 years old anymore … We have fights we have to take on. My cage fight is with corporate America and that’s the way it is going to stay.” O’Brien said he is willing to sit down with Mullin for coffee or a beer.
“In Oklahoma, if you run your mouth, you get called out. Period,” Mullin said on the social media platform X, after the hearing.
House Speaker Mike Johnson said he hoped the upcoming Thanksgiving break would give lawmakers a chance to “cool off” after the grueling weeks of fighting over legislation and the speakership that followed McCarthy’s ouster.
“This place is a pressure-cooker,” Johnson said at a news conference on Tuesday. “Everybody can go home, we can come back, reset.”
(Reporting by David Shepardson and Moira Warburton in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone, Nick Zieminski and Matthew Lewis)