GOP Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee accused former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of elbowing him in the kidneys Tuesday morning while Burchett was talking to a reporter, the latest sign of how tense the dynamics are in the House GOP conference.
Burchett, who was one of the eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy, has been heavily critical of the former speaker and the alleged altercation is indicative of the pressure cooker dynamics in the House GOP right now.
Burchett criticized McCarthy for being a “bully” as he described his altercation with the former House GOP leader where he says McCarthy elbowed him in the kidneys while he was talking to a reporter in the hallway outside the GOP conference meeting.
“I got elbowed in the back and it kind of caught me off guard because it was a clean shot to the kidneys. And I turned back (and) there, there was Kevin, and for a minute I was kind of, what the heck just happened and then chased after him of course,” Burchett told CNN’s Manu Raju, adding, “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 that he went after the former speaker to confront him about the altercation but said McCarthy brushed him off. He added that he “raised his voice” and that McCarthy responded to him with “that high pitched kind of thing.”
“Of course, as he always … does, he just denies it or blames somebody else or something. And 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,” he told CNN.
McCarthy repeatedly denied the incident to CNN, saying, “I didn’t shove or elbow him. It’s a tight hallway.”
In a lengthy gaggle later Tuesday, McCarthy again denied he hit Burchett.
“If I hit somebody, they would know it,” he said. “If I kidney punched someone, they would be on the ground.”
Tensions are high across Capitol Hill. On the Senate side, Oklahoma GOP Sen. Markwayne Mullin challenged a witness before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to a physical fight on Tuesday. Chairman Bernie Sanders quickly put a stop to it, admonishing Mullin and reminding him that he’s a United States senator and not a cage match participant.
The Vermont independent later told CNN’s Anderson Cooper the exchange was “pretty pathetic” and drew attention away from the Senate hearing, which focused on labor unions’ efforts.
When asked about McCarthy’s denials and his claim that the hallway was tight and it was an accident, Burchett said it wasn’t a serious explanation.
“There’s 435 congressmen, I was one of the eight that voted against him. That hallway was – there’s plenty of room, you could walk four side by side. He chose to do what he did. And you know, it’ll end right here. I’m sure it’ll just be a little asterisk on his storied career,” he said.
The Tennessee Republican continued later Tuesday to push back on McCarthy’s claim that the incident was an accident, telling CNN’s Raju: “First [McCarthy] said it didn’t happen. And then he said, he just brushed into me. And then he said the hall was crowded. And then the last thing he said was, if he had hit him, he’d have known it. So take your pick, it doesn’t matter. I don’t really care because he has a history of, in my opinion, of this kind of activity. And it just shows exactly why he doesn’t need to be speaker.”
Burchett also told CNN he was still in “a little bit” of pain. “A little bit yeah, I mean, it was just a clean shot to the kidneys and that’s all it was. And it was no big deal, and I’ve had worse,” he said, adding he is not seeking medical care.
“I’m not going to seek medical attention. And I’m not going to seek an attorney. I’m not going to seek an ethics validation. I could care less,” he said.
Burchett told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins Tuesday night that he and McCarthy haven’t spoken since the incident, but said he’d accept a call from the former speaker and forgive him.
“I’ve said several prayers for him today, ma’am. Something is really inside his heart right now, and he’s going to continue doing these types of activities, and it’s going to continue causing him embarrassment, upon his family and his district, and frankly the Republican caucus,” he said on “The Source.”
The Tennessee Republican earlier accused the former speaker of using his substantial campaign war chest to interfere in members’ races and said that he believes McCarthy – who has not yet said whether he will stay in the House – will be gone by the next Congress.
“He’s already messing in everybody’s races and we all know that,” Burchett said.
The relationship between the two Republican lawmakers has gotten tense in recent weeks. McCarthy told CNN he was surprised by Burchett’s vote to oust him last month. In the lead-up to the vote, Burchett said that McCarthy was condescending about the Tennessee Republican’s statement that he was praying about whether to vote to oust McCarthy.
Tuesday’s incident comes as tensions are at an all-time high in the House, with members having been in session for 10 straight weeks.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, said at his news conference on Tuesday that the Thanksgiving break would allow members to return home and “cool off.”
In a sign that some of McCarthy’s critics want to escalate the issue, GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida is filing a formal ethics complaint against McCarthy over the alleged altercation with Burchett, according to a copy of the document obtained by CNN.
Gaetz – who has been one of McCarthy’s chief antagonists and led the push to oust him as speaker – did not witness the interaction, but anyone can file a complaint to the House Ethics Committee. Burchett said he “appreciates” Gaetz having his back but that that’s “not a direction I was going in.” Gaetz said they have a “duty to investigate” and accused McCarthy of violating the members’ code of conduct.
Gaetz was also among the eight Republicans who voted to remove McCarthy as speaker, and McCarthy recently unloaded on the group in an interview with CNN, with McCarthy especially singling out Gaetz and noting Gaetz is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. Now, Gaetz is elevating their feud even further with this latest complaint.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
CNN’s Haley Talbot, Manu Raju and Sam Fossum contributed to this report.
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