It's hard to see how this ends well — for any of us
You know how it is when toddlers get tired. They get cranky. They cry, pout, and sometimes even try to hold their breath until they turn blue if they don't get their way. When this happens, you know it's time to give them a bottle and put them to bed. Later, there can be the problem of handling an unruly teenager, defiant and hostile, challenging every rule and refusing to acknowledge any authority. Sometimes it's enough to take away the car keys and ground them for a while. In other cases, intense therapy or even military school, as in the case of young Donald Trump, is seen as the only way to get through to them.
But what do you do when adult elected officials suddenly start behaving like screaming toddlers and teenage bullies in the halls of Congress? Is there any authority that can step in and quiet the tantrums? And when this increasingly anti-social behavior is happening in the shadow of a party leader and presidential candidate who exalts violence and cruelty, can we really just chalk it up to frustration and fatigue?
What do you do when adult elected officials suddenly start behaving like screaming toddlers and teenage bullies in the halls of Congress?
That question was asked repeatedly when all hell broke loose on both ends of Congress on Tuesday and nobody knows the answer. We aren't talking about the usual partisan sniping. Something disturbing and bizarre is happening within the Republican Party, which has now viciously turned on itself. Here are some of the incidents that took place in just one day:
On the overgrown toddler front, we have House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer, who has been appearing on every right-wing media outlet fulminating about the "Biden crime family" and waving around a $200,000 check repaying a personal loan from Biden's brother as if it's a smoking gun. (It is not.) At a hearing on Tuesday morning, Comer had a complete meltdown when confronted with the fact that he himself had engaged in some big money loans to his own brother that appeared to feature some very shady back and forth dealings. Comer got so agitated that he called Rep. Jared Moskowitz, R-Fl., who was dressed in a blue suit ... a smurf:
It could have been worse. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., failed in her privileged resolution to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas this week, due to eight Republicans voting with all the Democrats to refer the matter to committee, which is how it's supposed to be done. One of those Republican members, Californian Darryl Issa, was asked about it and he said that Greene "lacks the maturity and the experience to understand what she was asking for," prompting Greene to tweet a meme of former President Trump saying, “She said he’s a p‑‑-‑y.” Then she embellished it with another post saying "We all know what he's lacking..." with emojis of tennis balls.
But let's give her a few points for restraint. Unlike some of her colleagues, at least she didn't threaten anyone or resort to physical violence.
Tennessee Congressman Tim Burchett was giving an interview to an NPR reporter when he suddenly lunged forward and exclaimed that former Speaker Kevin McCarthy had elbowed him in the back. A chase ensued with Burchett running after McCarthy demanding to know why he did it which McCarthy denied, later telling reporters, "If I'd wanted to hit him, he'd know it."
We were soon reminded of a passage in former congressman Adam Kinsinger's book, in which he claimed that McCarthy, always surrounded by his security guards, purposefully shoulder-checked him hard when he passed him in the hallways. Who knew MyKevin was such a physical brute?
Naturally, Florida bomb thrower Matt Gaetz had to get in on the act. He quickly filed an ethics complaint against his nemesis, McCarthy, for elbowing Burchett. (This was obviously in retaliation for an interview in which McCarthy slammed the "crazy 8" who defenestrated him, specifically mentioning the ethics complaints still pending against Gaetz.)
Bernie Sanders prevents near brawl after Republican stands and dares union chief to fight at hearing
We have come to expect the House to be more than a little bit fractious lately and there have been whispers about physical threats being bandied about ever since the GOP speaker battle began. But yesterday even the Senate got a little piece of that hot bully boy action for itself. Sen. Markwayne Mullin, the former congressman turned freshman senator from Oklahoma, has been trash talking with Teamster President Sean O'Brien on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter over O'Brien referring to him as a "greedy CEO." At a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Mullin challenged him to a fight right then and there:
That actually went on for some minutes and it didn't get any better. Mullin made the rounds of all the right-wing cable shows and explained that there is nothing wrong with what he did because there's "presence" for it. They used to be able to cane, for instance.
In an interesting coincidence, Mullin had an earlier altercation with Rep. Burchett over the McCarthy vote and kicked him out of his daily workout group. According to The Hill:
Burchett confirmed that he was booted from the early-morning workout, saying the senator “berated” and “yelled at him” until he left — which Mullin denied — and that Mullin’s friendship with McCarthy was the main reason.
The bad blood within the party is boiling over.
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The conventional wisdom among the Beltway wags is that everyone is simply exhausted and at their breaking point. But why are they so tired? We aren't in a great depression or a world war. The pandemic is no longer a crisis and these people didn't care about it anyway. They're upset because they can't always get their way so they're staging an institutional tantrum. The drama is all of their own making.
It's easy to laugh and make fun of the clown show but this is actually very serious. The phenomenon has been growing slowly for years as extremists accumulated power and began to make unrealistic demands on the system. Donald Trump exacerbated the problem with his personal character flaws and lack of understanding or respect for democracy itself and now the party is fully engaged in a war with everyone in the country including itself.
The good news is that in spite of all this drama, they did manage to pass a short-term continuing resolution without spending cuts, thereby temporarily avoiding a government shutdown. It only happened because the MAGA extremists decided they would not hold their new speaker to the standard they held McCarthy and allowed him to pass it with Democratic votes. But Matt Gaetz has made it clear that Speaker Mike Johnson on borrowed time. It's hard to see how this ends well. For any of us.