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Ethics complaint filed against former speaker after hallway altercation

Rep. Kevin McCarthy accused of an elbow to the back of Rep. Tim Burchett

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference on Tuesday,
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference on Tuesday, (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A hallway incident between Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., is now an issue for the House Ethics Committee to tackle.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., has asked the panel to investigate a physical interaction between the former speaker and Burchett, one of the Republicans who backed the effort to oust McCarthy from the speaker perch.

Burchett said McCarthy elbowed him in the back after the GOP conference meeting, according to an account by an NPR reporter who witnessed it. He chased after McCarthy and called him a “jerk” and a “pathetic man.”

Burchett later told CNN that McCarthy hit him with a “sucker punch” and a “shot to the kidneys” that “still hurts.”

Gaetz wrote to Ethics Chairman Michael Guest, R-Miss., and ranking member Susan Wild, D-Pa., asking the panel to investigate what he described as an “assault,” one of many “breaches of decorum” the chamber has seen of late.

“I myself have been a victim of outrageous conduct on the House floor as well, but nothing like an open and public assault on a Member, committed by another Member. The rot starts at the top,” Gaetz wrote.

Gaetz used a commonly cited — and very wide-ranging — piece of language in the Code of Official Conduct that notes a member “shall behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect credibly on the House,” a standard he says McCarthy violated.

Tom Rust, staff director for the Ethics Committee, declined to comment.

McCarthy told CNN: “I think ethics is a good place for Gaetz to be.”

Gaetz was admonished by the Ethics panel in 2021 for a threatening tweet he directed at Michael Cohen, the ex-personal lawyer for former President Donald Trump.

Also in 2021, the panel opened an investigation into whether Gaetz engaged in sexual misconduct and illicit drug use, converted campaign funds for personal use and accepted a bribe. His office, in February, confirmed that the Department of Justice decided not to charge him in a federal sex-trafficking investigation.

McCarthy otherwise denied anything intentional in what was a crowded hallway. “I did not run and hit the guy, I didn’t kidney punch him, I did not shove him,” McCarthy told reporters.

He suggested maybe their elbows bumped as he walked by because he didn’t even notice.

Burchett, in response to McCarthy saying the bump was unintentional and that the hallway was crowded, said McCarthy has changed his story several times.

“Take your pick. It doesn’t matter. I don’t really care because he has a history, in my opinion, of this kind of activity,” Burchett said.

He called the McCarthy incident a “sad asterisk on a career.”

“In Tennessee, if somebody has a problem with you, they come to you and look you in the eye and they don’t come up behind you, and maybe that’s what they do in Southern California, but that’s not what we do in Tennessee,” Burchett said.

Burchett said he appreciates Gaetz “having my back” but said he doesn’t support an ethics complaint.

Burchett said he’s still in a little bit of pain but won’t see a doctor or pursue charges.

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