News & Politics

Is DC’s Summer Heat Melting Congressional Brains? An Evidence-Based Inquiry.

As climate change cooks the planet, our politicians are behaving dumbly. Coincidence?

Photograph by Evy Mages .

Raging wildfires. Bleached coral reefs. Melting permafrost belching out ancient pathogens. The distinct possibility that a vital Atlantic Ocean current system could collapse. Climate change is cooking the planet, and as Washington and the rest of the world swelter through a blazing summer that almost certainly will be the coolest of the rest of our collective lives—good stuff!—it’s time to consider another deleterious downstream effect of rising temperatures.

Namely, that the brains of our duly-elected representatives in Congress simply aren’t built for this kind of heat.

Admittedly, Capitol Hill has never been mistaken for an MIT faculty meeting; to the contrary, members have been doing dunderheaded stuff for a long, long time. Still, this year feels different. We know it’s hotter: the world is on track to have its warmest summer in 120,000 years. We also know that heat stress can decrease cognitive function and negatively impact mental health, possibly making us angrier, more aggressive, and less likely to use good judgment. 

Despite working indoors—presumably with the benefit of K Street law firm-grade air conditioning that allows them to comfortably maintain a year-round fashion aesthetic of Dark n’ Wool—some of our Congresspeople seem to be struggling, with their capacity to act like normal, professional adults, instead melting like a scoop of ice cream dropped on a hot sidewalk. Consider the evidence:


According to The Daily Beast, Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Democratic California Representative Eric Swalwell got into a late-June war of words that wouldn’t be out of place on a junior high schoolyard. The tete-a-tete began when Republicans voted to censure Democratic California Representative Adam Schiff for the high crime and misdemeanor of saying mean things about former president Donald Trump, leading Democrats to chant “shame!” in response.

So far, so dumb, a fine example of doing the People’s Business, assuming the People’s Business consists of creating easy-bake cable news content. Swalwell allegedly made made the moment personal by telling McCarthy “you’re weak. You’re a weak man.” This allegedly led McCarthy to stare down Swalwell for “about 10 seconds” before walking away, setting up a next-day confrontation, according to The Daily Beast:

… 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 s—t 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 p—y 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. P—y,” Swalwell told McCarthy.

After a tense moment, The Daily Beast reports, McCarthy then relented. Perhaps cooler heads prevailed—or perhaps McCarthy simply remembered his status as a major American politician, and decided to remain in character by declining to fulfill a public promise.



Republican Wisconsin Representative Derrick Van Orden was reportedly not happy to find a group of teenage Senate pages apparently resting in the Capitol Rotunda early Thursday morning. According to The Hill, the Senate was working late on amendments to a defense spending bill when Van Orden came across the pages:

“Wake the f‑‑‑ up you little s‑‑‑‑. … What the f‑‑‑ are you all doing? Get the f‑‑‑ out of here. You are defiling the space you [pieces of s‑‑‑],” Van Orden said, according to the account provided by the page.

“Who the f‑‑‑ are you?” Van Orden asked, to which one person said they were Senate pages. “I don’t give a f‑‑‑ who you are, get out.”

“You jackasses, get out,” he added.

Asked by The Hill about the exchange, Van Orden did not dispute the above account—instead, he doubled down on the righteousness of his tirade, comparing the pages to hypothetical people laying around in Arlington National Cemetery. Somebody get this man a glass of ice water!


Dubious Judgement 

At a Wednesday morning prayer breakfast, Republican South Carolina Representative Nancy Mace told attendees that her financé had woken up, well, horny:

“ … [he] tried to pull me over by my waist this morning in bed. And I was like, ‘No, baby, we don’t got time for that this morning. I gotta get to the prayer breakfast, and I gotta be on time.’ ”

Laughing, she added: “A little TMI [too much information]. He can wait. I’ll see him later tonight.”

First things first: there’s nothing inherently wrong with some consensual AM action, especially before the day turns unbearably hot and sticky of its own accord. However, sharing an anecdote about the same at a prayer breakfast rife with sex-negative religious conservatives is maybe—just maybe—not the best idea.

Is the heat making our politicians dumber? Can we expect even smoother-brained behavior in the future? While it’s impossible to say yes with any degree of scientific certainty, it’s quite possible. Eight years ago, Republican Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to show that global warming isn’t real. At the time, it played like a stupid stunt; in retrospect, it looks more like an unintentionally ironic sign of things to come. 

Patrick Hruby
Deputy Editor

Patrick Hruby joined the magazine in 2022. He previously worked as an editor or writer for ESPN, VICE, Sports on Earth, Global Sport Matters, and The Washington Times, and has contributed to publications including The Atlantic, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post.