There’s a story going around Capitol Hill that Democrats insist you just have to hear. It’s about how Speaker Kevin McCarthy is “a pussy.”
On June 21, the day Republicans voted to censure Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Democrats stood on the House floor and shouted “Shame!” at their GOP colleagues. As the spectacle was taking place, one of the leaders of the demonstration, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), was standing in the well of the House near the speaker's podium and delivered some harsh words to his fellow Californian.
“This is pathetic,” Swalwell allegedly told McCarthy, who was presiding over the House at the time. “You’re weak. You’re a weak man."
(You can actually see—and slightly hear—Swalwell staring at McCarthy and calling him “weak” at 3:49 in the tweet below.)
The exchange was conveyed to The Daily Beast by two separate lawmakers. When reached by phone, Swalwell said he would not discuss the story with the press, but he also did not deny the account. McCarthy’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
As the story goes, McCarthy was visibly upset with Swalwell. “He had a vein popping out of his forehead,” one member told The Daily Beast, in a likely flourish of storytelling. Another Democratic member who witnessed the exchange said McCarthy stared down Swalwell for about 10 seconds before walking away.
But the next day is when things got interesting. On June 22, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Capitol Hill for a joint address to Congress. Just before Modi took the Speaker’s podium, Swalwell was on the House floor, making his way to a bathroom just outside the chamber on the Republican side.
That’s when McCarthy saw him.
“McCarthy said, ‘If you ever say something like that to me again, I’m gonna kick the shit out of you,’” a member claimed to The Daily Beast.
Another member who witnessed the exchange provided even more context: “They were in each other’s faces. Basically nose-to-nose. And Swalwell said something like, ‘Are we really gonna do this?’”
After some back-and-forth, with chests puffed out, McCarthy issued a challenge to Swalwell: “Call me a pussy again, and I’ll kick your ass,” the Speaker allegedly said.
While both members told nearly identical versions of this story, they both delivered Swalwell’s response in exactly the same way.
“You. Are. A. Pussy,” Swalwell told McCarthy.
After both men stared each other down for another moment, McCarthy eventually relented. He stepped to the side and let Swalwell through to the bathroom—without kicking his ass—and carried on with his duty hosting the leader of a major U.S. ally in the House chamber.
While Democrats may not love the particular insult—a gendered slur denoting that someone lacks courage—they are absolutely delighting in the exchange. They believe it’s indicative of McCarthy’s empty threats and ultimate weakness.
There is plenty of existing bad blood between the two Californians: during his speakership, McCarthy has gone after Swalwell personally and repeatedly.
In one of his first acts in office, McCarthy kicked Swalwell off the House Intelligence Committee over allegations that Swalwell inadvertently had a relationship with a Chinese spy. (He also booted Schiff, who had been the panel’s top Democrat.)
Swalwell hit back in a joint statement with colleagues, claiming McCarthy had once again “capitulated to the right wing of his caucus” and had “struck a corrupt bargain in his desperate, and nearly failed, attempt to win” the speakership.
Since then, Swalwell has repeatedly slammed McCarthy on cable TV and social media, recently calling him “corrupt” on MSNBC.
While neither McCarthy nor Swalwell wanted to go on the record to speak about the incident, a month after the confrontation, the story is making its way around Congress, with each telling getting a little more dramatic.
At least publicly, there’s little indication the feud will die down—at least on Swalwell’s part.
Last week, when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), a key McCarthy ally, showed explicit photos of Hunter Biden in an Oversight Committee hearing, Swalwell jumped.
“McCarthy’s GOP: a party of non-consensual nudes,” he tweeted, adding the hashtag: “#CreepSummer.”