Two Republican congressmen involved in a physical altercation at the Capitol on Tuesday have offered different versions of what went down in the hallway.
While Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee was conducting an interview with NPR’s Claudia Grisales, Rep. Kevin McCarthy walked by him and made some level of contact. Burchett is one of eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy as speaker of the House last month, and the two men have portrayed Tuesday's incident in alternative ways.
Speaking to CNN outside the Capitol following the incident, Burchett said, “I got elbowed in the back, and it kind of caught me off-guard because it was a clean shot to the kidneys. And I turned back and there was Kevin, and for a minute I was kind of 'What the heck just happened?' And then I chased after him, of course."
Burchett said he caught up to McCarthy, describing the conversation that followed as “heated,” with both men raising their voices amid the security detail.
“If you’ve ever been hit in the kidneys, it’s a little different. You don’t have to hit very hard to cause a lot of pain,” Burchett later explained.
Saying he concluded McCarthy wasn’t going to own up to his actions, Burchett decided to end the encounter.
“I 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, referring to the presidential chain of succession, adding, “I wasn’t looking to knock him out or anything, I just wanted to let him know I know it was him.”
Noting that Tuesday’s incident was the first time he had communicated with McCarthy since voting to remove him as speaker, Burchett said he wasn’t injured in the altercation and wouldn’t be filing a formal ethics complaint. But Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who spearheaded the effort to remove McCarthy, did file an ethics complaint against the former speaker on Tuesday, calling for an “immediate and swift investigation” into what he called an “assault.”
McCarthy dismissed Burchett’s version of events, telling CNN, “I didn’t shove or elbow him. It’s a tight hallway.”
While he did acknowledge making contact with Burchett, he denied malicious intent.
“I did not run and hit the guy. I did not kidney-punch him,” McCarthy said during a press gaggle, adding, “If I hit somebody, they would know it. If I kidney-punched someone, they would be on the ground.”
The reporter’s view
After the incident, Grisales took to social media to offer her eyewitness perspective.
“Have NEVER seen this on Capitol Hill: While talking to [Burchett] after the GOP conference meeting, former [Speaker McCarthy] walked by with his detail and McCarthy shoved Burchett,” Grisales wrote. “Burchett lunged towards me. I thought it was a joke, it was not. And a chase ensued.”
“Burchett's back was to McCarthy and his detail walking by in the hallway, then the lunge,” Grisales continued. “Burchett responded jokingly as McCarthy kept walking, ‘Sorry Kevin didn't mean to elbow —' then seriously yelled, ‘why'd you elbow me in the back Kevin?! Hey Kevin, you got any guts!?’”
During his CNN interview, Burchett said Grisales’s recounting of the events was accurate.
Cover thumbnail Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images, Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images