Tennessee’s Tim Burchett accused former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of elbowing him in the kidney on Tuesday morning when they were talking to a reporter, the latest sign of how tense the atmosphere is in the House GOP conference.
Burchett, one of the eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy, has been a vocal critic of the former speaker, and the alleged incident underscores the high stakes within the House GOP. Burchett criticized McCarthy as being “threatening” because he described an encounter with the former House GOP leader where McCarthy allegedly elbowed him in the kidney while they were talking to a reporter outside the hallways of the GOP conference meeting.
“My kidney got hit, and I got scared because it was a direct hit to the kidney. And I turned around (and) there, Kevin was, and for a moment, I was kind of like that’s what happens when you’re a kid, you throw a rock over the fence and run and hide behind your momma’s skirt.
Burchett said he went to talk to the former speaker about the dispute, but McCarthy ignored him. He then said he “raised his voice,” and McCarthy responded with “that high-pitched thing.”
“Sure enough, like he always…does, he just denies it or blames someone else or something else. And it was just a little heated. But I just backed off because – I didn’t see any reason. I wasn’t gaining anything from it. Everybody saw it. So it really didn’t make any difference,” he told usnewsdaily.
McCarthy repeatedly denied the incident to usnewsdaily, saying, “I didn’t shove him or elbow him. It’s tight quarters.”
Later on Tuesday in a lengthy interview, McCarthy once again denied assaulting Burchett.
He said, “If I hit someone, they would know. If I hit someone with a kidney punch, they would drop to the ground.”
Tensions are running high on Capitol Hill. On the Senate side, Oklahoma GOP Senator Markwayne Mullin challenged a witness to a physical fight during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Tuesday. Chairman Bernie Sanders quickly intervened, admonishing Mullin and reminding him that he is a United States senator, not a cage match participant.
Vermont Independent later told CNN’s Manu Raju that the incident was “pathetic” and distracted from the Senate hearing, which focused on the efforts of labor unions.
When asked about McCarthy’s denial and his characterization that the altercation was tight quarters and an accident, Burchett said it was not a serious altercation.
“There are 435 members in there, and I was one of eight that voted against him. It was tight quarters — you could only walk four abreast. He chose to do what he did. And, you know, it will end right here. I’m sure it will be a little blip on his historic career,” he said.
The Tennessee Republican later maintained that he was not dismissing McCarthy’s claims later on Tuesday, telling CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “First, [McCarthy] said it didn’t happen. And then he said he just bumped into me. And then he said, ‘Well, it was crowded in the hall.’ And then the last thing he said was that if he would have hit me, I would have known. So pick your poison. It doesn’t matter. I’m not really concerned because, in my opinion, he has a history of this kind of activity. And it just shows he doesn’t need to be a speaker.”
Burchett also told CNN that he is still “a little sore.” “A little bit, I mean, it was a clean shot to the kidney, and that was it. And it wasn’t a big deal, and worse has happened to me,” he said, adding that he is not seeking medical care.
“I’m not going for medical help. And I’m not going to look for a lawyer. I’m not looking for any moral vindication. I could care less,” he said.
Burchett told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Tuesday night that since the incident, he and McCarthy have not spoken, but he said he would accept a call from the former speaker and forgive him.
“I have prayed for him today, ma’am. There is something in his heart at this time, and he will continue to engage in such activities, causing embarrassment for his family, his district, and clearly for the Republican caucus,” he told “The Source.”
The Tennessee Republican had previously accused the former Speaker of using campaign war chest weaponry to intervene in members’ races and suggested that he believes McCarthy – who has yet to say if he will remain in the House – will be gone from the next Congress.
“He’s already been meddling in everybody’s race, and we all know that,” Burchett said.
In recent weeks, tensions have escalated between the two Republican lawmakers. McCarthy told CNN last month that he was surprised by Burchett’s vote to oust him. During the vote, Burchett said McCarthy was gracious about the statement in which he prayed for McCarthy to be ousted.
Tuesday’s incident comes as tensions remain at an all-time high on the Hill, with members in session for 10 consecutive weeks. Louisiana Republican, House Speaker Mike Johnson, said Tuesday that the Thanksgiving break will allow members to return home and “cool off.”
According to a copy of documents obtained by CNN, signaling that some of McCarthy’s critics want to elevate the issue, Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz is filing a formal ethics complaint against McCarthy over the alleged altercation with Burchett. Gaetz — who remains one of McCarthy’s chief opponents and led the charge to pressure him to step aside as speaker — has not seen the altercation but any House member can file a complaint with the House Ethics Committee. Burchett said he supports Gaetz’s “commendation,” but it’s “not the direction I’m going.” Gaetz said his “duty is 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 was recently included in a group interview with McCarthy by CNN where McCarthy specifically called out Gaetz and noted that an ethics investigation was underway. Now, Gaetz is adding to his ongoing feud.