Sometimes it feels like Congress is trying to parody itself.
As lawmakers stagger toward the Thanksgiving recess after some of the ugliest and most unproductive weeks in years, the place is coming completely unglued.
Despite the House passing a stopgap funding bill to keep the government open beyond this week, representatives acted out a farce Tuesday. The joke was on Americans deprived of a serious, functioning government.
Kidney shots and cage matches: In one extraordinarily frivolous episode on Tuesday, Kevin McCarthy – until recently the most powerful elected Republican in the country – was accused of delivering a painful blow to Rep. Tim Burchett, one of the GOP rebels who ousted him as speaker. “It was a clean shot to the kidneys,” the Tennessean told CNN’s Manu Raju.
The former GOP leader repeatedly denied the claim, blaming a tight hallway for the collision. Then, in a flash of bravado, McCarthy added: “If I kidney punched someone, they would be on the ground.”
But it wasn’t even the most fiery showdown of the day.
Across Capitol Hill in the world’s so-called greatest deliberative body, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin was spoiling for a prize fight. He told Sean O’Brien, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, to “Stand your butt up!” and challenged him to a bout. Mullin was angry at past tweets in which O’Brien apparently called him a “clown.”
“You want to do it now?” Mullin asked.
“I’d love to do right now,” O’Brien replied from the witness table.
A flabbergasted Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders waved his arms, banged his gavel and complained that he was supposed to oversee a hearing not a cage match.
“God knows, the American people have enough contempt for Congress, let’s not make it worse,” Sanders warned, reminding Mullin he was a US senator.
The normally sleeping confines of the wonkish Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee had never seen anything like it. But Mullin, posing as a Sooner State folk hero, explained to reporters he had no choice but to answer the bell. “You don’t do that in Oklahoma. You don’t run your mouth unless you’re gonna answer the call,” said the former Mixed Martial Arts fighter.
A disaster averted — or perhaps just postponed: In a minor miracle, the chaotically dysfunctional House of Representatives did manage to take steps Tuesday to avert a threatened government shutdown, passing a plan to temporarily fund the federal machine. The Senate still needs to approve the measure, which would only delay the next funding deadlines until early next year.
But even the House’s vote exposed the forces that threaten to tear the chamber apart again soon, with 93 Republicans opposing the bill. Conservatives are smarting at rookie Speaker Mike Johnson’s failure to include massive spending cuts that have no chance of getting past the Democratic-run Senate or Biden’s White House and that would guarantee a shutdown that would damage the GOP and bring pain to millions of Americans.
Their recalcitrance meant that Johnson was forced to rely on Democratic votes to get it through the House, using exactly the same maneuver that cost McCarthy his job last month.
So effectively, because the GOP majority in the House is so divided, it’s only operable if Democrats want it to be.
Read more of Collinson’s analysis.