Stephen Boyd: THE MONDAY SHORT | January 16, 2023

The Monday Brief offers a general outlook for the coming week in Washington. Though Congress is on recess this week, it’s worth breaking down a side story from the historic speaker election that’s been lingering on social media and certain corners of cable news: the Alabama Rep swap. Mike Roger with Rep. Matt Gaetz after the 14th round of voting.

C-SPAN captured the images: After days of frustrating defeats, Rep. Kevin McCarthy came close to earning the votes necessary to become Speaker. McCarthy approached Gaetz, the Pensacola-based Representative who led a small number of Republican holdouts. A crowd gathered. The chamber fell into a muffled silence. Even Democrats watched as McCarthy and Gaetz had a civilized but intense back-and-forth. Rogers broke into the crowded discussion to share his thoughts on Gaetz’s continued disability – words that likely reflected the views of many Republicans at the moment. Rep. Richard Hudson withdrew Rogers before Rogers articulated his concerns with more colorful language.

The end. The whole thing lasted no more than a few seconds.

However, some media outlets would have you believe that a chaotic backroom brawl almost broke out between the two Republican lawmakers.

A CNN reporter tweeted that Rogers “pounced” on Gaetz … FoxNews said there almost ensued a “fist fight” and that the members “needed to be restrained …” Politico breathlessly reported that the house “The chamber was thrown into chaos when two lawmakers almost came to blows,” later describing the exchange as both a “quarrel” and “Member after member scuffle.”

Not correct.

There was neither a “fight out” nor a “fight”. There was no “fight” ahead. You’ll see Bryant-Denny and Jordan-Hare exchange far more heated words on far less consequential matters every Saturday this fall.

That was exaggerated from the start. Watch the video for yourself. Or take the word of those involved:

  • Gaetz, the alleged victim, was quick to offer his forgiveness for what he called an “animated moment.”
  • Rogers admitted he briefly lost his temper, saying he appreciated Gaetz’s “kind understanding” and noting they have a long and productive working relationship.
  • Rep. Burchett, the representative of Tennessee known for his humorous quips, clarified that he was joking when he said, “People shouldn’t be drinking on the floor of the house, especially if you’re a redneck.” I think the guy from Tennessee who unites the guy from Alabama Calling hillbilly is funny, y’all. More importantly, Burchett clarified that neither he nor Rogers drink alcohol at all.
  • And finally, Rep. Hudson, the North Carolina congressman who withdrew Rogers: “When I saw Rep. Rogers, I could tell from his body language that he was upset, so I just did what I could to help it.” try and keep it escalating to something. The real shame about it is that I kind of grabbed his shoulders and pulled him back. . . My hand slipped and went to his face, so it looks like I was trying to muzzle him. It looks way more dramatic than it really was.”

The media, of course, has a story to tell, and in the midst of hours of drawn-out legislative processes, any candid moment that shows the human side of business will draw attention.

Perhaps that human element is the real takeaway here. In this cynical age, it’s easy to forget that politics is a theater for people like us, imperfect, to come together to debate and advance what we believe to be important. In my experience, most people who serve in Congress have sacrificed much to be there and are personally far more passionate about their particular cause than they are given credit for.

In the words of a 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 at play than jaded indifference any day of the week.

There’s nothing wrong with being cheered on. This is democracy, sometimes messy, in action.

With the sensationalism of speaker choice behind us, it’s time to get down to the real work of legislation.

For Rogers, that means taking over 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 tough stances against America’s biggest threats like Russia, North Korea and China while modernizing America’s armed forces and overseeing top Biden administration leaders at the Pentagon.

It’s historical. Rogers will be the first representative from Alabama to chair the committee.

The schedule…

The House of Representatives and Senate are both on recess during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday week, but both will return to Washington next week for the first extended term of office this year. Members and staff will make progress as legislative activity resumes, President Biden delivers his State of the Union address on February 7, and budget hearings begin. The busy season on Capitol Hill is just around the corner.

Back next Monday with a full report.

Stephen E. Boyd is a Partner at Horizons Global Solutions. Previously, he served as Senate-appointed Assistant Attorney General at the US Department of Justice, Chief of Staff to Alabama Members in both the US Senate and House of Representatives, and Communications Director for the Senate Judiciary Committee. He lives in the Washington, DC area. The opinions expressed here are his own. This news report is not intended to influence or persuade. Email Stephen [email protected].