The Monday Brief generally provides a look at the week ahead in Washington. Although Congress stands in recess this week, it’s worth breaking down a side-story from the historic Speaker’s election that lingers on social media and in certain corners of cable news: Alabama Rep. Mike Roger’s exchange with Rep. Matt Gaetz after the 14th round of balloting.
C-SPAN caught the images: After days of frustrating defeats, Rep. Kevin McCarthy was on the verge of gaining the votes necessary to become Speaker. McCarthy approached Gaetz, the Pensacola-based Representative leading a small number of Republican holdouts. A crowd gathered. The chamber fell to a hushed silence. Even Democrats looked on as McCarthy and Gaetz had a civil, but intense, back-and-forth. Rogers entered the crowded discussion to share his thoughts on Gaetz’s continued obstruction—words that probably reflected the views of many Republicans in that moment. Rep. Richard Hudson pulled Rogers back before Rogers articulated his concerns with more colorful language.
The end. The whole thing lasted not more than a few seconds.
But some media outlets would have you think a chaotic backroom brawl nearly ensued between the two Republican lawmakers.
A CNN reporter tweeted that Rogers “lunged” at Gaetz… FoxNews said that there was nearly a “fistfight,” and that Members had to be “restrained…” Politico breathlessly reported that the House “chamber descended into chaos when two lawmakers nearly came to fisticuffs,” and later referred to the exchange as both an “altercation” and a “member on member scuffle.”
There was neither a “lunge” nor a “scuffle.” No “fistfight”” was imminent. You’ll see far more heated words traded on far less consequential matters inside Bryant-Denny and Jordan-Hare any Saturday this Fall.
This was blown out of proportion from the start. Watch the video yourself. Or, take the word of those involved:
- Gaetz, the alleged victim, was quick to offer his forgiveness for what he termed an “animated moment.”
- Rogers, acknowledging that he briefly lost his temper, said he appreciated Gaetz’s “kind understanding,” and noted they have a long and productive working relationship.
- Rep. Burchett, the Tennessee Representative known for his humorous quips, clarified that he was joking when he said, “People shouldn’t be drinking, especially if you’re a redneck, on the House floor.” I guess the guy from Tennessee calling the guy from Alabama a redneck is funny, y’all. More importantly, Burchett went on to make clear that neither he nor Rogers drinks alcohol at all.
- And, finally, Rep. Hudson, the North Carolina Congressman that pulled Rogers back: “When I saw Rep. Rogers, I could tell by his body language that he was upset, and so I just did what I could do to try and keep that from escalating into something. The real shame of it is, I sort of reached to grab him by the shoulders and as I was pulling him back . . . my hand slipped and went up to his face, so it looks like I was trying to muzzle him. It looks a lot more dramatic than it really was.”
The media, of course, has to tell a story, and in the midst of hours of tedious legislative proceedings any candid moment that shows the human side of the business is going to get attention.
Perhaps that human element is the real takeaway here. It’s easy in this cynical age to forget that politics is an arena for humans, imperfect as we are, to come together to debate and advance that which we hold important. In my experience, most folks serving in Congress have sacrificed a lot to be there and are far more personally passionate about their particular cause than they get credit for.
In the words of one Senator to me, “our people didn’t send us here to be ‘potted plants.’” No, they didn’t. And, when it comes to running the country, I’d rather see personal skin in the game over blasé indifference any day of the week.
Nothing wrong with getting fired up. That is democracy, sometimes messy, in action.
With the sensationalism of the Speaker’s election behind us, it’s time to get to get down to the real work of legislating.
For Rogers, that means taking the gavel as the new Chairman of the House Committee on Armed Services, a powerful post that gives the Congressman and his team immense influence over the Pentagon’s programs, policies, and $800 billion in annual spending.
Expect Rogers to continue his hardline positions against America’s top threats like Russia, North Korea, and China, while modernizing America’s forces and providing oversight over the Biden Administration’s top leaders at the Pentagon.
It’s historic. Rogers will be the first representative from Alabama to lead the committee.
The House and Senate are both in recess during the week of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday, but each return to Washington next week for the first extended work period this year. Members and staff will hit their strides as legislative activity starts to picks up, President Biden gives his State of the Union address on February 7, and budget hearings begin. The busy season on Capitol Hill is just over the horizon.
Back next Monday with a full report.
Stephen E. Boyd is a Partner at Horizons Global Solutions. Previously, he served as a Senate-confirmed Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice, Chief of Staff for Alabama members in both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, and as a Communications Director of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. He resides in the Washington, D.C. area. Opinions expressed herein are his own. This news report is not intended to influence or persuade. Email Stephen at [email protected].