Editorial: Capitol spats look like toddlers in suits

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Now, now, children. In not one but two separate displays of juvenile bickering turned physical recently, congressional Republicans demonstrated just how much the past few years of increasingly violent language among their ranks is morphing from rhetoric to real.

It’s instructive that even as those day care-level spats erupted Nov. 14, the wellspring of that rhetorical style — a certain former president who is dangerously positioned to become a future one — was adding to his reprehensible repertoire, endorsing a call for a “citizens arrest” of the judge and prosecutor in the pending fraud trial against him.

On the same day, in an incident related in theme if not substance, former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was talking with reporters in the Capitol when Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., walked up and loudly confronted him, alleging McCarthy had elbowed him in the back moments earlier.

The bad blood between the two men has long been evident. Burchett was one of eight hard-right Republicans who voted to remove McCarthy as speaker last month.

“Hey Kevin, why did you walk behind me and elbow me in the back?” Burchett demanded, as reporters looked on. “You have no guts.”

“I didn’t do that,” McCarthy replied, adding with a laugh, “Oh my God.”

“You are so pathetic,” retorted Burchett. He would later tell CNN, “I got elbowed in the back and it kind of caught me off guard ’cause it was a clean shot to the kidneys … and there was Kevin.”

The same day, not far away, a mixed-martial-arts fighter angrily challenged a Teamster to a brawl. The setting wasn’t a bar or a boxing ring, but a committee hearing room of the U.S. Senate — you know, the chamber that is supposed to embody more dignity and decorum than the House.

During a hearing on labor issues, Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla. — a former MMA champion whose political stances include opposition to all abortion rights, even to save a rape victim’s life — launched into a tirade against committee witness Sean O’Brien, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, escalating a social-media confrontation the two had been having.

“Sir, this is the time, this is the place … we can finish it here,” Mullin told O’Brien. “You want to finish it here?”

When O’Brien said he would, Mullin said, “Stand your butt up, then.”

“You stand your butt up,” O’Brien responded — and Mullin did just that.

Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, banged the gavel and barked at Mullin: “Stop it! Sit down! You’re a United States senator, act it!”

“God knows,” Sanders continued, as Mullin finally sat back down, “the American people have enough contempt for Congress, let’s not make it worse.”

Too late, senator.

Both instances are direct results of infighting and spiraling dysfunction among congressional Republicans — internecine dramas to which Democrats have been little more than bystanders.

Some are starting to ask how the GOP has gotten so angry today, even with their own.

But really, how can anyone ask that question, when the party’s presidential front-runner, former President Donald Trump, has spent the past half-dozen years normalizing the rhetoric of political violence, making it acceptable and even indispensable to the Republican base?

As Trump showed on Jan. 6, 2021, language like he uses can encourage the eruption of real-world violence.

And as McCarthy & Co. showed this month, the normalization of such fighting words can spawn real-world fighting. When will the voters finally give this band of toddlers in suits the “timeout” they so clearly need?