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House Pressure Cooker Lets Off Some Steam as Funding Bill Passes

Fistfights, assaults, and recrimination – recess can't come soon enough.

Late Tuesday evening (November 14), the House of Representatives voted to pass a stop-gap measure to keep the government funded past this Friday’s looming deadline. The atypical bill was a two-step continuing resolution that kicked the can down the road, funding some agencies until January 19 and others until February 2, assuming that the Senate and the president both approve it. However, it was also much more than just another spending package.

Passing with broad bipartisan support, 336 to 95 – with 93 Republicans and two Democrats voting against it – the legislation not only keeps the government paying its bills but also acted as a release valve for a Congress that seems ready to implode. As Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) noted, “Members have been here for ten weeks. This place is a pressure cooker.”

New banner Perpective 2Events of just the last 24 hours suggest the chance of a recess comes not a moment too soon.

McCarthy’s Body Blows?

Recently ousted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has been accused publicly of “assaulting” fellow Republican Rep. Tim Burchett (TN). Burchett said McCarthy “elbowed [him] in the kidneys” when walking past him; McCarthy countered, saying any contact they made was an accident. The Tennessee lawmaker was not so easily mollified, claiming it was “a cheap shot by a bully.”

Burchett was one of the handful of GOP House members who voted to remove McCarthy from his former position. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has called for an ethics investigation, pointing out that this is not the only breach of decorum. “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,” he said.

Smurf Shenanigans

Also in the lower chamber, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-KY) got into a heated exchange with opposition member Jared Moskowitz (D-FL). The argument was in reference to Comer’s ongoing investigation into President Joe Biden and a number of checks that changed hands between Biden family members. Moskowitz attempted to deflect fire from the president by posting on social media that Comer had made loans to his own family members and, as such, should also be under investigation. During a committee meeting, he said that Comer had on Fox News “told people that while the president was out of office, he had a loan with his brother, and in a way, they were evading taxes.” Moskowitz then claimed:

“It has come out in the public that you also do business with your brother with potential loans. And so, since you have framed that and manipulated that with the American people, that Joe Biden did something wrong when he wasn’t in office, I just would like to know if you would like to use some of my time?”

Labor Union HearingWASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 14: Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., listens during the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on "Standing Up Against Corporate Greed: How Unions are Improving the Lives of Working Families" on Tuesday, November 14, 2023, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Sen. Markwayne Mullin (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The foolhardy offer of handing over his speaking time was happily received by Comer, who systematically dismantled Moskowitz’s argument. “I would love it,” Comer responded. “You retweeted that story, completely false. I’ve never loaned my brother one penny. My father, who was a dentist, had some farmland. He died, and my brother couldn’t afford — he wanted to sell it, but he wanted to keep it in the family. So, I bought it from my brother. That story that you tweeted also said I had a shell company. That is b—s—.”

When a flustered Moskowitz tried to reclaim his time, Comer said, “You look like a Smurf, here, just going around and all this stuff,” likely referencing the Democrat’s blue outfit.

Ready for the Fight?

It wasn’t only the lower chamber providing bread and circuses. During a Senate Health Committee meeting, Senator Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) threatened to take on Teamster President Sean O’Brien in a fistfight. The senator had been quoting O’Brien’s social media messages in which he said he could take on Mullin “any time” or “any place.”

“Sir, this is a time, this is a place; you want to run your mouth; we can be two consenting adults, and we can finish it here,” Mullin – a former MMA fighter – said.

“OK, that’s fine, perfect,” O’Brien responded.

“You want to do it now?” Mullin asked O’Brien, who replied, “I would love to do it right now.” Both men then encouraged the other to “stand” their respective “butt” up. Mullin then left his seat but was lightly restrained before the incident could go any further.

As lawmakers continue to grate on both their allies’ and opponents’ nerves, passing the continuing resolution may offer a much-needed release of pressure – knowing they can go home for the holidays with the government funded is almost certainly a relief to the majority of members.

House Honeymoon Is Over

Steering this funding bill is undoubtedly a feather in the cap of newly minted Speaker Mike Johnson; he has shown that he can navigate tricky political waters under a deadline. However, much of his own party’s support was gifted rather than earned, with some lawmakers saying that he was being given a “break” in his nascent speakership – especially as the final package contained no significant spending cuts. Johnson acknowledged this, noting, “We’re not surrendering but fighting.” He added, “I’ve had this job less than three weeks. I can’t change or turn an aircraft carrier overnight.”

He has bought himself some time to start working on a package that can either halt the GOP internecine warfare or effectively land blame on Democrat counterparts. For now, at least, the building rancor in Congress will have a chance to cool its heels. But one wonders just how many closed-door negotiations will be taking place while the rest of the country settles down to its Thanksgiving turkey.

Read More From Mark Angelides

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