WASHINGTON — Like family members arguing over Thanksgiving dinner, lawmakers on Capitol Hill were at each other’s throats last week.
Ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy was accused of elbowing a political opponent, Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, in what he called a “clean shot in the kidney.” Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., an MMA fighter, threatened a fight with Teamsters union President Sean O’Brien during a Senate hearing.
And Supervisors Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., mocked Rep. Jared Moskowitz, wearing a blue suit, called “Smurf” after the diminutive Florida Democrat raised questions about Comer and his brother’s business dealings during a hearing.
“I think they should bring back caning,” quipped Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., referring to the 1856 beating of Senator Charles Sumner that left him in the Senate covered in blood.
Apart from the fact that the halls of Congress appear to be in “Fight Club,” Republicans also said they would try a second time to expel one of their own scandal-prone lawmakers, George Santos, R-N.Y., after an ethics report found, among other things, that the freshman fabulist used campaign funds for personal expenses, including purchases in designer stores, Botox treatments and payments for OnlyFans.
The congressional approval rating among Americans is 13%a 20% decline in June, according to Gallup — but that dismal figure could fall even further after Congress’ “hell week.”
“There are stupid days on Capitol Hill and there are dumber days on Capitol Hill, and this was one of the stupidest I’ve seen in a long time,” Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., said on the day of the incidents by McCarthy, Mullen and Moskowitz — just weeks after he led repeated failed attempts to choose a speaker last month.
A 10 week marathon session
The series of clashes capped a chaotic fall congressional session that included a spending showdown that nearly brought down the government, the first ouster of a speaker in American history and a three-week Republican civil war over McCarthy that raised and toppled A host of ambitious executives who wanted the top job. The man who won the speaker’s gavel, Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, was able to avoid another shutdown this week, but he needed a lot of Democratic votes to do so.
Furious that Congress was postponing the funding fight until the new year, conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus immediately blocked individual Republican spending bills, forcing Johnson to send lawmakers home for the Thanksgiving holiday a day early, without that the Republicans won.
“One thing! I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing – one thing! – that I can keep campaigning and say we did it,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, thundered on the House floor. a tirade from a conservative that went viral. “Everyone sitting in the complex wants to come forward and explain to me one essential, meaningful, significant thing: The Republican majority did it.”
Many attributed the rampant frustration and physical altercations to the fact that the House had been in session for 10 weeks since the summer recess, marked by long nights away from loved ones and with nothing to show for legislation. Some lawmakers warned that without the Thanksgiving break, someone could die.
“I can understand why breaks are built into the system to make people walk away,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., as he descended the still blood-stained stairs where a reporter stood fatally shot Rep. William Taulbee in 1890. “For I think if we were here another week a Republican member might kill another Republican member.”
Lawmakers make their way to the exits
House members are leaving Congress in droves, from veterans to newer lawmakers. More than a dozen have announced plans to run for higher or other office and not return. Others, like Budget Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, are retiring after decades of service and reaching the pinnacle of power.
But some lawmakers say Republican infighting, unpredictable timing and political paralysis contributed to them abandoning Congress. Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Arizona, who secured influential posts on the Steering Committee and Energy and Commerce Committees during her five years in Congress, stunned her colleagues when she announced her retirement plans in the middle of a three-week speech battle.
She wondered if the job was worth being away from her family now.
“I miss my family. Everyone says that, but I really mean it. I miss my husband. I miss my 94-year-old mother, my five grandchildren, my children. Normally we are here three weeks a month and then it changes Calendar. Then you try to arrange something with your family and then you have to change it because you’re not there,” Lesko said.
“The other thing is that it is completely dysfunctional. We can’t get anything done here. It’s very frustrating,” she added.
Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., said he has no regrets about his decision not to run for re-election, citing frustration with his own party over its attempt to impeach President Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the criticism of the MPs. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and denial of the 2020 election.
“Unconstitutional impeachments and censures that make no sense…,” Buck said, shrugging off his grievances. “The main reason was that we can’t admit that Republicans lost an election in 2020, which is crazy! And we can’t work on significant legislation because it hurts politically to say we have to reform Medicare, we have to reform Social Security, we have to get spending under control.”
Republican Rep. Dan Bishop, who is leaving the House to run for North Carolina attorney general, attributed the discord in the Republican Party to what he called “insufficient unity of purpose” and a party “in transition.” designated. Bishop, who frequently clashed with leadership during his four years in Congress, said he may be better suited for a leadership role in Raleigh than being one of 435 House members.
“French Hill from Arkansas said I was a leader — I think that was a backhanded compliment,” Bishop said with a smile. “But it’s true. I can’t wait to do the same things over and over again and I’m a change agent, it’s fair to say: we have to get on with things.”
Ever-optimistic Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., isn’t running for re-election, but despite his weekly cross-country flights, he’s not as disillusioned with Capitol Hill. He believes he made a difference during his decade in Congress, particularly as chairman of the House Modernization or “Fix Congress Committee,” which worked to improve issues such as House technology and staff diversity and retention.
But Kilmer, 49, wrote in one long and heartfelt statement that the job “came at great cost to my family.” I missed every theater performance and every music concert. Every family dinner I wasn’t there for. The distance I felt from my family for months after the events of January 6th. I am aware that I have not always delivered what I wanted and I hope that they forgive me for that.”
Later, just off the floor, he told reporters about an amusing exchange he had with House Chaplain Margaret G. Kibben during last month’s long speakers’ battle.
“Pray harder,” Kilmer jokingly told her.
“Imagine what it would be like if I was not “I pray so much,” Kibben replied.