The biggest question on Capitol Hill this week is whether the meanest, toughest people in the country come from Oklahoma or Tenneseee?
Perhaps you’re dreamin’.
“I’m a guy from Oklahoma first,” said Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., a former MMA fighter on Fox News Radio.
Mullin rose from his seat on the dais during a Senate hearing to challenge Teamsters President Sean O’Brien to a fistfight. Mullin even loosened his wedding ring. That signaled that he was serious about throwing haymakers with O’Brien.
Mullin’s staff tells Fox that as a former pro fighter, the senator knows that “if he hit something with a ring on, his hand would likely swell up.”
Mullin stared down at O’Brien, towering above the witness table from the dais where senators sit.
“You don’t run your mouth like that in Oklahoma unless you’re willing to stand up and back it up,” said Mullin of O’Brien. “He just ran his mouth off to the wrong person.”
Don’t mess with Oklahoma?
Texas is not pleased.
Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., says that former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., deliberately elbowed him in the kidneys this week. NPR Congressional Correspondent Claudia Grisales recorded the exchange as she interviewed Burchett.
“Why’d you elbow me in the back, Kevin?” hollered Burchett at McCarthy, before pursuing the Speaker and his United States Capitol Police security detail down a Congressional corridor. “Hey Kevin, you got any guts?”
Burchett was one of the eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy from the Speakership last month.
“What kind of chicken move is that? You’re pathetic, man,” yelled Burchett at the former Speaker. “You’re a jerk. You need security, Kevin.”
You’ve heard Mullin opine on how Okies settle things mano-a-mano. But how do the gentlemen handle business in the Volunteer State?
“It’s just a little different with the way people react in Tennessee than they do in California,” declared Burchett. “In Tennessee, if you’ve got a problem with somebody, you take it to him face to face. I guess in Southern California, where (McCarthy’s) from, you take a cheap shot at somebody from behind.”
Know thy enemy, suggested Sun Tzu in the Art of War.
McCarthy hails from Bakersfield, which is not Southern California. It’s part of the Central Valley.
The former Speaker was far from contrite. He denied lowering the boom on Burchett.
“I didn’t punch anybody,” said McCarthy. “If I would hit somebody, they would know I hit them.”
Which suggests that McCarthy has contemplated hitting someone.
Could you blame the former Speaker after lawmakers like Burchett voted to can him?
Amid the hurly-burly, lawmakers seemingly violated the first rule.
Oh. Come on. You know what rule.
They talked about fight club.
Boxers usually beat each other to a pulp. They’re sometimes black and blue.
But how about just blue?
It isn’t every day in Congress that a House committee chairman calls one of his members “a Smurf.”
House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., and Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., tangled verbally Tuesday.
“You look like a Smurf,” charged Comer, an apparent reference to Moskowitz’s diminutive stature and stylish, “Crayola Blue” suit jacket.
Moscowitz later characterized Comer as “Gargamel,” the sworn enemy of the Smurfs.
“La la la-la la la. Sing a happy song. La la la-la la la. Smurf the whole day long.”
No happy songs on Capitol Hill amid these tensions.
There’s a reason altercations and tensions are boiling right now in Congress.
The House is in session for its 10th consecutive week. Such a stretch without a recess is extraordinary. Laypersons will say that’s nothing. But lawmakers split their time between Washington and their home states/districts. They conduct business on Capitol Hill. They conduct business back home. In essence, Congress is always “in session.”
Congressional veterans attest to the fact that stress spikes when lawmakers are in Washington for more than three or four consecutive weeks. Double that to ten weeks – a period not seen in years. Then mix in an unprecedented move to boot the Speaker of the House and two possible government shutdowns.
Pressure is also mounting over the war in the Middle East, aid to Israel and what could happen with Ukraine. House members also viewed gruesome, disturbing video Tuesday morning of Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians from October 7. Members have also raged about multiple efforts to censure one another for their actions and even expel Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y. There was also a failed effort to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Blend all of that together and you have a volatile Congressional concoction. Hence, the contretemps.
Moreover, there are questions about why House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., was able to get away with an interim spending bill – yet the same approach cost McCarthy his job.
The reason? Look no further than the elbow heard ‘round the Capitol.
Burchett voted to remove McCarthy from the Speakership.
Frankly, some members will tell you they never trusted McCarthy.
“He did stuff like (elbowing Burchett) to us all the time,” said one House Republican to Fox. “Only behind the scenes.”
In short, there was always a cohort of Republicans who disliked McCarthy. But they prefer Johnson. Hence, McCarthy’s ouster was personal. It was not over policy or legislative strategy.
And just as a point of information, McCarthy and Mullin are longtime allies. In fact Mullin trekked regularly to the House chamber to visit with McCarthy when he faced challenging votes on spending bills, his ouster and even during a possible effort to resurrect the former Speaker.
Yours truly asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., if he had any influence to adjust the political climate.
“It’s very difficult to control the behavior of everybody who’s in the building,” replied McConnell. “I don’t view that as my responsibility. That’s something the Capitol Police have to deal with.”
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., saw this as another episode he termed the Republican civil war.” Jeffries added that the GOP “hit a new low.”
But some Republicans downplayed the decorum breaches.
“That’s nothing man. That’s small potatoes,” said Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla. “Anybody who’s been in high school. College. Been in a sports locker room. Stuff gets testy. It’s not even a big deal.”
Mullin noted that fights and duels have a longstanding place in American history.
“Andrew Jackson challenged nine people to a duel when he was President. He also knocked one guy out at the White House (state) dinner,” said Mullin on Fox Business. “Maybe we should bring some of that back.”
Washington was a violent place in the 19th Century.
Newspaper reporter Charles Kincaid shot and killed Rep. William Taulbee, D-Ky., on a Capitol stairwell in 1890. The blood is still visible on the marble staircase today.
Rep. Preston Brooks, D-S.C., famously caned Sen. Charles Sumner, R-Mass., in the Senate chamber in 1856.
On Fox, Mullin contends he wasn’t going to hold back on O’Brien.
“Every now and then a bully needs to be taught a lesson,” boasted Mullin.
But Mullin’s braggadocio comes amid a contemporary era of political violence.
David DePape is now on trial for attacking Paul Pelosi, the husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at their San Francisco home last year. A gunman nearly killed former Reps. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and Ron Barber, D-Ariz., in 2011. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, D-La., came close to dying during the Congressional baseball practice shooting in 2017. There was the Capitol riot which injured 140 Washington, DC and U.S. Capitol Police officers. A man wielding a bat burst into the district office of Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., in the spring, badly injuring two aides.
“Sit down!” admonished Senate Health, Education and Pensions Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., when Mullin rose to fight O’Brien. “You’re a United States senator!”
Calls for calm may be more important in this atmosphere than egging on people to brawl.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., received some blowback from House conservatives Tuesday as lawmakers careened toward voting on an interim spending bill to avoid a weekend shutdown. But Johnson defended his novel, two-step approach to keep the federal lights burning through mid-January.
“This allows us as conservatives to go into the fight on the next stages of this,” said Johnson.
Reporters peppered Johnson about his gambit since it renewed old funding and was still a temporary spending bill – both anathema to the right.
“We’re not surrendering. We’re fighting,” said Johnson. “But you have to be wise about choosing the fights. You’ve got to fight fights that you can win.”
It’s unclear who might prevail in a tilt between Kevin McCarthy and Tim Burchett. The same with a Markwayne Mullin/Sean O’Brien match. Johnson may have been talking about fighting policy battles with ideas and words. But under his stewardship, the Speaker offered sage advice: take on fights that you can win.
And anytime Congress resorts to threats of physical violence, that’s a loss for everyone.