The hallowed halls of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday witnessed not one but two near-physical altercations involving lawmakers, showcasing the escalating animosity within the political landscape.
The first incident unfolded when Rep. Tim Burchett, a Tennessee Republican, accused former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of deliberately elbowing him in the back. Burchett, one of the eight GOP members who voted to remove McCarthy from his leadership post in October, was speaking to reporters after a closed-door Republican conference meeting when the incident occurred. According to Burchett, McCarthy’s blow was intentional and fueled by personal resentment.
“I was one of eight that voted him out,” Burchett declared, labeling McCarthy a “bully” and emphasizing the personal nature of the attack. “He’s mean and he knows it,” Burchett added, suggesting McCarthy’s actions were inappropriate and describing the encounter as “a little heated.”
But McCarthy denied any deliberate physical contact, telling CNN that the hallway was tight and attributing the incident to the confined space. In an earlier interview on the network, McCarthy said he was surprised by Burchett’s vote to oust him, considering the Tennessee Republican had previously supported his bid for the speakership.
The tension on Tuesday didn’t stop at the House. In a separate incident at a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing, Sen. Markwayne Mullin, an Oklahoma Republican, and Teamsters President Sean O’Brien nearly came to blows. The confrontation stemmed from a series of provocative tweets exchanged between the two, culminating in a direct challenge to settle their differences physically.
“You know where to find me. Anyplace, Anytime cowboy,” O’Brien tweeted at Mullin, leading to a heated exchange during the Senate hearing. Mullin and O’Brien exchanged taunts and challenges, with Mullin ultimately getting up from his seat, ready to confront O’Brien physically. Mullin is a former undefeated Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter, and was inducted into the Oklahoma Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, intervened at the last minute, admonishing Mullin to sit down and preventing the situation from escalating further. “You’re a United States senator, sit down,” Sanders ordered Mullin as he stood up to approach O’Brien. This was not the first clash between Mullin and O’Brien, as their longstanding animosity had previously spilled into public view on social media.
The two incidents on Capitol Hill underscored the deepening divisions and personal animosities within the political arena just days ahead of a potential government shutdown, raising concerns about the state of civility and decorum among elected officials. A recent poll from Pew found that positive views of many governmental and political institutions are at historic lows, with just 16% of the public saying they trust the federal government always or most of the time.