It’s quite rare for Republicans to get a starring role in the entertainment industry, let alone on an HBO production. The Swamp, a new documentary, is a fascinating exception.
The documentary mainly focuses on the bipartisan effort to stop corruption in DC through reforms on issues like party leadership influence, campaign spending, lobbying and executive war power. HBO tells this story mainly through the lenses of Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who have their own respective attempts at bipartisan legislative reforms during a partisan impeachment impeachment. But Cockburn wasn’t that taken with the public policy. There are too many humorous moments in the documentary to focus on such tedium. Here are the real highlights.
The Gaetz/Trump bromance
‘I keep this picture of a bill signing with President Trump mostly because I have no idea why I was there,’ Gaetz told HBO as they toured his apartment on Capitol Hill. ‘This is a bill that I had almost no role in crafting. I think I voted for it. But sometimes the President just likes to be around some of his buddies.’
Gaetz spoke to HBO often about his love for the President. The documentary even featured calls between the two, revealing their deep bromance in real-time.
‘You were great today,’ Trump told Gaetz on the phone after the Mueller hearings. ‘You’re handsome, so that’s always good.’
‘He’s very happy,’ Gaetz giddily said after the call.
The Florida congressman, after getting lamb chops delivered to his apartment via Uber Eats, called the President again during the heart of the impeachment trials.
‘I tell you, you’re really a talent,’ Trump said to Gaetz. ‘You’re tough and smart and you have the look. The look is always nice, right?’
Scandal on the Hill
Here’s Cockburn’s personal favorite moment of the nearly two-hour-long documentary. It includes former Rep. Katie Hill, who Gaetz defended during a throuple sex scandal with a congressional staffer that eventually led to her resignation. The two had a conversation over drinks, discussing their agreement on populist, anti-corruption issues despite being of different political parties. However, when the President’s name came up, Gaetz made sure to have his fun.
‘He’s so great,’ Gaetz told Katie Hill with a grin. ‘I’ll never love another president again. I love him so much.’
‘I remember you telling me that one of the first times I talked to you while we were getting on the elevator,’ Hill responded.
‘I was trying to trigger you,’ Gaetz joked.
Like most typical movies, this program has the frat and the nerd character. Gaetz, as Trump said, has the look. Massie, a former engineer, has the brains. And with brains, of course, comes a deep love for Star Wars.
Massie, when explaining his approach to draining the swamp, showed a Lego X-wing fighter given to him by Rep. Justin Amash, who he said shares his view of Capitol Hill as the Death Star.
‘If you come up here to visit, there’s scaffolding on it all the time,’ he said. It looks like it’s being worked on, but it’s fully functional. And it can destroy happiness and life anywhere on the globe.’
‘What I’m doing is looking for the one weakness of the Death Star, but sometimes I end up in the trash compactor.’
Massie, like any true nerd, made sure to reference to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings too. The classic book came up when discussing the power of the congressional pin that members of Congress wear on Capitol Hill.
‘I started to call this pin “precious,”’ Massie said. ‘The reason I call it precious is because it affects how you think. You can come here as a hobbit and put this thing on and become Gollum in very short order.’
‘Because people behave differently around you, it gives you a feeling of power — an uncomfortable feeling for me. And so I try not to wear it any more than I have to because I think eventually it will turn me from a hobbit into a Gollum. And I see that happen up here.’
The elevator incident
Massie also had a sitcom-like moment that seemed almost too good to be true.
‘So this one is reserved for members of Congress,’ Massie explains as he and the HBO crew hopped on an elevator. ‘Not many of us have the heart to kick somebody off who’s not a member. Virginia Foxx is notorious for kicking people off, but she won’t just kick the staffers off the elevator — she asks them who they work for because she tells on them too.’
As the elevator door opens, who but Rep. Foxx herself is there.
‘Hey Virginia, I was just telling them you keep our elevator for members only.’
‘I do my best,’ she laughed.
The third featured Republican of the documentary is Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, a founding member of the freedom caucus. While Buck didn’t get as much airtime, he had an amusing moment of blunt honesty after taking calls from his constituents at the time of the impeachment trial.
‘I’ve had enough,’ he said. ‘I think this place has drained me of a certain amount of life. After having been here for five years, I have no illusion that what I say anybody cares about. I have thought about leaving and I don’t know whether this is my last term or whether I’ll run for one more term.’
Buck eventually decided to run again. It sure is hard to turn away from The Swamp!