scorecardresearch Skip to main content

An alleged elbow. A challenge to a fight. A Smurf-related insult. Republican tempers flare on Capitol Hill.

Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) spoke to reporters about a run-in he had with Representative Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), one of the eight Republicans who had voted to oust him from the speakership, at the Capitol in Washington, Nov. 14, 2023.KENNY HOLSTON/NYT

As lawmakers in the House again scrambled to avert a federal government shutdown, several public outbursts from Republicans on Capitol Hill on Tuesday laid bare the party’s bitter divisions.

The chaotic scenes that unfolded did not escalate to the infamous beating of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner at the hands of an aggrieved colleague in the 1850s. But physical violence was both alleged and proposed in separate instances, drawing disbelief and widespread mockery.

In the span of hours, former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was accused of elbowing a colleague, which he denied. A Republican senator challenged a witness to a fight for the second time in months. Another Republican representative called a Democratic lawmaker a “Smurf,” among other insults.


When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked later in the day what responsibility he has to “lower the temperature in the building right now,” the Kentucky Republican said that “it is very difficult to control the behavior of everybody who is in the building. I don’t view that as my responsibility.”

“That’s something the Capitol Police ought to deal with,” he added.

‘If I hit somebody, they would know it,’ McCarthy says of accusation

The day got off to a raucous start.

“Have NEVER seen this on Capitol Hill,” remarked a congressional reporter who chronicled the first skirmish of the day: a reported feud between McCarthy and Representative Tim Burchett, a Republican from Tennessee who accused the former speaker of roughly elbowing him in the back while speaking with the journalist.

In a post to X, Claudia Grisales of National Public Radio wrote that she was speaking with Burchett after the GOP conference meeting when McCarthy walked by with his security detail. Burchett suddenly lunged toward her before angrily taking off after McCarthy and his team.

“Hey Kevin, why’d you walk behind me and elbow me in the back?” Burchett asked McCarthy, according to Grisales. “You got no guts ... what kind of chicken move is that? You’re pathetic, man, you are so pathetic.”


McCarthy denied the allegation, but Grisales reported that Burchett was “in disbelief.”

Burchett was one of the eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy as speaker last month and told Grisales that Tuesday’s run-in was the first communication with him since.

A firestorm soon erupted over the incident. Speaking with journalist Manu Raju on the steps outside the Capitol, Burchett called McCarthy a “bully” and said McCarthy elbowed him in the back, catching him off guard, with a “clean shot to the kidneys.” He said he went to confront McCarthy, who dismissed the allegations.

“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 said. “Of course, as he always … does, he just denies it or blames somebody else or something. 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.”

McCarthy repeatedly denied the allegation throughout the day, saying he neither shoved nor elbowed Burchett. During an afternoon press gaggle, McCarthy said it was a crowded hallway and he may have bumped Burchett accidentally while walking by.

“If I hit somebody, they would know it,” he said. “If I kidney-punched someone, they would be on the ground.”


While Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida, did not see anything transpire between the two lawmakers, he is filing a formal ethics complaint against McCarthy over the altercation, CNN reported.

‘Stand your butt up then,’ Republican senator says to Teamsters president

That same afternoon, Senator Markwayne Mullin, a Republican from Oklahoma and former mixed martial arts fighter, challenged Teamsters president Sean O’Brien to a fight during a Senate committee hearing. Chair Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, was forced to intervene.

It was the second time in recent months that Mullin has challenged O’Brien, a Medford native who led Local 25 in Charlestown for years, to a fight. Mullin noted that O’Brien had insulted him several times on social media, calling him a “greedy CEO who pretends like he’s self-made,” as well as a “clown” and a “fraud.”

“Sir, this is a time, this is a place. You want to run your mouth, we can be two consenting adults, we can finish it here,” Mullin said to O’Brien, a witness at the hearing. “OK, that’s fine. Perfect,” O’Brien fired back.

“You want to do it now?” Mullin asked. “Stand your butt up then.”

“You stand your butt up,” O’Brien retorted.

At that point, Mullin sprang from his chair as if readying for action as others could be heard yelling.

Sanders quickly interceded, telling Mullin to “hold it” and “sit down.”

“No, no, no, sit down. Sit down! You’re a United States senator, sit down,” Sanders said. He banged his gavel.


“This is a hearing. God knows the American people have enough contempt for Congress, let’s not —” Sanders yelled before he was cut off by Mullin and O’Brien, who continued exchanging barbs.

“We’re not here to talk about physical abuse,” Sanders said after Mullin challenged O’Brien again.

Mullin later told CNN that he has “no regrets” about what happened and that he was “raised different” when pressed about the propriety of settling disputes physically. “He’s a thug,” he said of O’Brien.

‘You look like a Smurf,’ Republican representative says to Democrat

During another tense exchange Tuesday, Representative Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat from Florida, and Representative James Comer, a Republican from Kentucky and chair of the House Oversight Committee, sparred at a hearing focused on the oversight of the General Services Administration.

Moskowitz referenced a loan that President Biden received from his brother, which is part of the committee’s investigation into the finances of the Biden family.

Moskowitz said Comer “owes it to the American people to explain why you’ve gone on Fox News and told people that, while the president was out of office, he had a loan with his brother, and in a way, they were evading taxes.”

“It has come out in the public that you also do business with your brother with potential loans,” Moskowitz continued. “Since you have framed that and manipulated that with the American people, that Joe Biden did something wrong when he wasn’t in office, I just would like to know if you would like to use some of my time.”


Comer cut in and said he would “love” to speak on the matter.

During a tirade, Comer denied loaning his brother any money and called the story “[expletive].”

When Moskowitz tried reclaiming his time, Comer refused to back down.

“You look like a Smurf, here, just going around and all this stuff,” Comer said to Moskowitz, who was wearing a blue suit and tie.

The two continued yelling over each other before another member moved to restore order.

“Gargamel was very angry today,” Moskowitz posted on X, referring to the villain of “The Smurfs” cartoon.

He also appeared to make light of the ordeal, tweeting multiple GIFs of Smurfs afterward.

Shannon Larson can be reached at Follow her @shannonlarson98.