Meet the House GOP’s Newly Crowned King of Comedy
“With Billy Long leaving Congress, the conference is looking for a new class clown,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.). “And I name Tim Burchett…he’s so unpredictable. He says the craziest things.
Accessible and unsupervised, Burchett is perhaps one of the least filtered members, even making comments to reporters that most politicians would fight to bury. His wise and jovial nature has won him friends from both sides of the aisle, despite his conservative electoral record, at a time when relations between parties in the House are thinning. Asked about his unusual freewheeling approach, he replied that his constituents in East Tennessee “don’t care about that stuff.”
“I don’t take myself seriously. I take the job seriously,” Burchett said in an interview, a day before Christmas Eve.
Others accepted. GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy was able to tick off several fun moments thanks to Burchett, but also praised him as a voter-focused member. He said Burchett “uses that ‘aw shucks,’ but he’s very smart.”
“He has the ability to take a serious situation, lighten the room, but also make his point,” McCarthy said.
This month, Burchett guest media, colleagues and staff at an end-of-year party expected to last 15 minutes and said there would “eventually” be refreshments. The party, which actually lasted 15 minutes, included a PB&J sandwich stand, a ‘charcuterie’ board that was just Burchett spraying cheese on Ritz crackers and Christmas music courtesy representatives from the Texas GOP. Louie Gohmert and Brian Babin strumming guitars.
And while the funny character sometimes has a way of overshadowing his message, he also uses his jokes to harmlessly vent on Hill’s dynamic. He’s not a fan of governing power structures who rise to the top or are given coveted committee roles, for example, which often include alliances with party leaders, fundraisers and general gossip.
“I’m frustrated with the whole system,” Burchett said, noting that he had approached McCarthy to apply for positions on some panels, like the House Intelligence Committee. “I don’t kiss buttocks enough and don’t raise money to advance in the conference, so I’m annoyed about that. There are definitely people who I would say should be in positions they’re not, just because of that. And I hate missed opportunities.
He also tries to provide levity in tense situations – with mixed results. Earlier this month, he drew both laughs and grimaces in a heated moment at a conference-wide meeting as some of his colleagues grew irritated that McCarthy’s allies get more time from their colleagues to defend his candidacy for the presidency.
Burchett took to the mic and denounced their weekly conference meetings as a waste of time where they never learn anything. And he told Rep. Elise Stefanik (RN.Y.), who was managing whose turn it was to speak, that if he wanted to be disrespected by a woman, he would go home with his wife and daughter. Some appreciated the humor, while others felt that directing the commentary at the top woman in Republican leadership took the joke too far.
In general, his colleagues on Capitol Hill feel that Burchett is the kind of person who can get away with comments others couldn’t.
“He says what he wants and people can be offended. He didn’t give a flip,” said GOP Rep. Mark Green, who is on the Tennessee delegation with Burchett. “And he’s gotten to the point where people are taking it from him. If I said that, there would be a [negative] article about me.
There are plenty of incidents that support Green’s claim. Rep. David Kustoff (R-Tenn.) said Burchett called him his “favorite Jew after Jesus.” And, according to Armstrong, when Burchett’s chief of staff was hit by a scooter and they checked on him, he and others presented the chief with a helmet, a whistle and a cape. branded with Burchett’s friendly nickname for his best staff member: “Big Sexy.”
Sometimes Burchett’s jokes seem absolutely random. Last year, he met Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), a first-term lawmaker who wore a purple ribbon to raise awareness of the opioid epidemic at the time, and told her that the purple was his favorite color. He said he grew up sleeping in purple sheets, but when he was 12 his mum tried to throw them out after a baby gerbil poked holes in them.
“No, Mom, not my purple sheets!” he shouted, recalling the episode to a confused but amused Dean, whom Burchett said he had just met.
Unlike most Capitol Hill politicians, the Tennessee Republican doesn’t carefully build his image or don the belt uniform of loafers and button-down shirts. In fact, Burchett’s colleagues were more concerned about the public sharing of legislator jokes, fearing poor optics or negative public misinterpretations, than Burchett himself.
He strolls around the Capitol in the same tan Carhartt jacket (don’t get his friends started on the reports that dubbed Senator-elect John Fetterman [D-Pa.] as Carhartt’s Congressional Ambassador), punching friends, checking in on strangers and outraged co-workers Holden Caulfield-style, talking about how much he loves his wife and daughter, and striking up random conversations about when he was selling items on Ebay as a stampede.
And while his voting record resembles that of members of the House Freedom Caucus, his relationships across the aisle are starkly different. He and Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly embraced after Burchett told her he was praying for her husband after the violent assault at Pelosi’s San Francisco home, as The Tennessean recalled. He’s also been known to butt heads with Democrats like progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.), an association his GOP colleagues say would destroy other members among grassroots voters.
But he doesn’t want his interactions with Democrats to end there. He has three goals he remembers being listed by former Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.):
“I want to go down South Beach hand in hand with [former Rep.] Donna Shalala. I want to go to the Bronx and party with AOC. I don’t know if she lives in the Bronx or not… I’ve never been to New York,” Burchett said. “And I said I wanted to party in the Kennedy compound.”