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GOP rifts boil over in exchange between Reps. McCarthy and Burchett

Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., got into an altercation with former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday.
Alex Brandon
Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., got into an altercation with former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday.

In a sign of how deeply divided the House Republican conference remains after weeks of infighting, former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and one of the Republicans who voted to oust him had an altercation in the Capitol Tuesday.

McCarthy shoved past Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., as he was speaking with NPR's Claudia Grisales in a hallway. Burchett stumbled forward and yelled after McCarthy, "Why'd you elbow me in the back, Kevin?! Hey Kevin, you got any guts?!"

Burchett then called McCarthy a "jerk" and chased him down the hallway. When he caught up to him, he said, "What kind of chicken move is that? You're pathetic, man. You are so pathetic."

Burchett said it was the first time he'd spoken to McCarthy since he voted to oust him last month.

"That was it," he said. "He should have kept his word. I think that just showed what he's about and it's unfortunate."

McCarthy denied elbowing Burchett, telling CNNthat it was a "tight hallway."

The dust-up comes hours before the House is slated to vote on a stopgap measure to keep the government open — the same thing that triggered the push to oust McCarthy in the first place. That unprecedented ouster brought legislative work to a halt and left the conference in disarray for three weeks while they tried to coalesce around a new speaker candidate.

Political disagreements in Congress are nothing new but the exchange between McCarthy, who was once one of the top leaders in the party, and a ranking member escalates a long slide of bitterness and anger in the House.

And unlike previous disagreements, many Republicans say recent conflicts have grown increasingly personal.

A growing string of personal attacks against Republicans by Republicans

Sen. Markwayne Mullin, a former member of the House, made lewd accusations last month about Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., after Gaetz triggered the push to oust McCarthy. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene attacked Rep. Darrell Issa Tuesday morning through the use of emojis. And recent conference meetings have been heated, sometimes devolving into expletive-laden shouting.

In one recent example of the animosity, after Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., joked about a failed vote to expel New York Rep. George Santos, Santos went after Womack's son, who has struggled with drug addiction.

"Those are, you know, childish acts really, when you resort to going on social media and crossing red lines for a lot of members involving their families," Womack said.

Womack said this isn't the olden days when members of Congress could have heated fights during the day, followed by joint dinners that night.

"You know, I long for those days. That's the way it was designed, and that's the way it ought to function," he said. "But sadly, today there are too many personalities involved, and that's regretful. It gets in the way of us getting our work done."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lexie Schapitl is a production assistant with NPR's Washington Desk, where she produces radio pieces and digital content. She also reports from the field and assists with production of the NPR Politics Podcast.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.