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McCarthy Elbows in the Back GOP Lawmaker Who Voted to Oust Him From Speakership

“Why’d you elbow me in the back, Kevin?” Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee asked the former speaker.

Former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy arrives to a House Republican candidates forum in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill, on October 24, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

Tempers flared in the halls of Congress on Tuesday as former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-California) appeared to jab in the back a fellow GOP congressman who voted for his ouster last month.

Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tennessee) was speaking to NPR reporter Claudia Grisales in the U.S. Capitol when the incident occurred. Grisales recounted the series of events on her account on X, the site formerly known as Twitter.

“While talking to @RepTimBurchett after the GOP conference meeting, former @SpeakerMcCarthy walked by with his detail and McCarthy shoved Burchett,” Grisales wrote, adding that she “thought it was a joke” but that “it was not.”

Burchett, confused about what had just happened, yelled at McCarthy. “Why’d you elbow me in the back, Kevin?” he said, before chasing the former speaker down the hallway. Burchett asked if McCarthy had “any guts” to discuss the matter with him, as McCarthy, who was accompanied by a security detail, continued walking without acknowledging the Tennessee congressman.

Finally, McCarthy responded to Burchett’s words, rejecting his claims that he had hit him.

“I didn’t elbow you in the back,” he said.

Burchett, responding to McCarthy’s denial, said that he had “no guts” and called the elbowing a “chicken move.”

Later, Burchett told Grisales that the interaction on Tuesday between him and McCarthy was the first time the two have had a “communication” since the vote to remove the California lawmaker from the speakership position.

Burchett recounted the interaction on CNN later that day, describing Grisales’s account on X as “very accurate.”

“I turned back and there was Kevin,” Burchett said, describing the elbowing in an interview on the cable network. “For a minute, I was kinda ‘What the heck just happened?’ I chased after him.”

Burchett derided McCarthy as “a bully” with security detail.

“You just don’t expect a guy who was at one time three steps away from the White House to hit you with a sucker punch in the hallway,” Burchett said.

Burchett said he didn’t intend to file an ethics complaint against McCarthy over the incident. But later on Tuesday, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), whose distaste for McCarthy (and vice versa) is well documented, filed a complaint of his own against the former speaker.

“This incident deserves immediate and swift investigation by the Ethics Committee,” Gaetz’s complaint states.

Notably, Burchett was one of eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy in early October. With every Democrat in the chamber also voting in favor of removing McCarthy, the motion to vacate successfully passed, leading to weeks of no leadership. During that time, two formal nominations from Republicans failed before far right Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana was selected and eventually voted in.

Johnson has until the end of this week to pass a stopgap funding bill in the House in order to avert a government shutdown. The interaction between McCarthy and Burchett is perhaps emblematic of the difficulties the new House speaker faces in cajoling members of his party into supporting a bill — members of the far right House Freedom Caucus, for example, have already stated that they will oppose the measure, which is now forcing Johnson into the precarious position of having to ask Democrats in the chamber to help him pass it, an action that Freedom Caucus members cited in justifying their support for originally removing McCarthy.

Although they oppose the federal funding measure, the Freedom Caucus has stated that it will not use this vote to attempt to remove Johnson from his role as speaker.

“While we remain committed to working with Speaker Johnson, we need bold change,” the group said.

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