Congress is poised to finally avert a government shutdown before the holidays and buy itself some time for negotiations. But it will literally do so kicking and screaming.
On Tuesday, both chambers of Congress saw tensions run high, with members nearly coming to blows.
The tension began when, as Claudia Grisales of NPR reported, former House speaker Kevin McCarthy walked past Rep Tim Burchett (R-TN) and shoved him. That led to Mr Burchett, a normally mild-mannered Republican whose drawl resembles Huckleberry Hound, chasing the disgraced former speaker and then lunging at him before getting into an apparent scuffle.
That apparently led to Mr McCarthy denying that he elbowed Mr Burchett, and Mr Burchett saying, “You got no guts, you did so.”
For those who may have forgotten, Mr Burchett and Mr McCarthy have a tumultuous relationship. At the beginning of this year, Mr Burchett backed Mr McCarthy for speaker. And in the wee hours of 7 January, as a fight nearly broke out on the House floor, he told Rep Matt Gaetz (R-FL) to call off the dogs to allow Mr McCarthy to become speaker.
But to borrow from Taylor Swift, that mad love turned to bad blood in October after the House passed a clean stopgap spending bill without spending cuts. When Mr Burchett told reporters he would have to pray about whether to join Mr Gaetz in ejecting Mr McCarthy, the then-speaker reportedly mocked Mr Burchett, which pushed the gentleman from Tennessee over the limit and led to Mr Burchett voting to oust the speaker.
Judging by Tuesday’s exchange, the two will not reconcile anytime soon. And just to twist the knife a little bit more, Mr Gaetz announced he would file an ethics complaint against his former nemesis Mr McCarthy. Reminder, Mr Gaetz is still the subject of an ongoing Ethics Committee investigation himself.
Senate Republicans apparently got the memo that it was fight club day on the Hill.
Back in July, during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, Sen Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), a former MMA fighter, had a testy exchange with Sean O’Brien, the head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. During a HELP hearing on Tuesday, Mr Mullin read a tweet from Mr O’Brien challenging him to a fight “Anyplace. Anytime, cowboy.”
In turn, both men proceeded to stand up before Sen Bernie Sanders, the chairman of the committee, admonished both of them. When I asked Mr Sanders about the incident, he said simply, “Well, I know that you're very interested in the important issues facing America.”
As if that weren’t enough, during a hearing of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, Chairman James Comer and Rep Jared Moskowitz (D-FL), who frequently mocks the GOP’s attempts to impeach President Joe Biden with acerbic wit, had a testy exchange. At one point the chairman mocked Rep Dan Goldman (D-NY), as “Mr Trust Fund” for being the heir to the Levi’s fortune and said of Mr Moskowitz, “you look like a Smurf.”
All this tension is the result of Congress being forced to deal with each other for weeks on end. Doug Andres, the press secretary for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (and one of the better accounts on X, formerly known as Twitter), said: “Today is another example of why Congress shouldn't be in session for 5 weeks straight. Weird things happen.”
But that’s just the Senate. The House, which is generally more squirrelly than the staid club of 100 that is the US Senate, has been in session for 10 weeks. In that time, it went 22 days without a speaker, wherein Republicans cycled through three candidates before agreeing to make Mike Johnson speaker of the House. Democrats, for their part, have been fighting about Israel, with 22 of them joining a Republican censure of Rep Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), for using the phrase “from the River to the Sea” to talk about Palestine.
Meanwhile, Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has taken to calling Rep Chip Roy (R-TX) Colonel Sanders, which is an Original Recipe for disaster.
Most of the time, Congress works in staggered cycles and the House members can go home, talk to constituents, rest, cool their tempers, have a drink and then come back refreshed. But the inability of Congress to even pick a speaker meant they were stuck with each other.
With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching and a potential deal on a continuing resolution seeming inevitable, the best thing might be to allow Congress to go home for a nap and a bottle as if they were infants in a daycare centre.