Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) got into a testy exchange behind closed doors Thursday, after Gaetz accused McCarthy of being behind a social media campaign targeting the Florida Republican — which the Speaker denied.
The back-and-forth at the House GOP’s conference meeting took place amid heightened tensions between the men, with Gaetz openly threatening to force a vote on ousting McCarthy as Speaker if he does not follow through with a number of demands on spending and legislation.
“I asked McCarthy direct question: Were you out there paying for people to try to create a false negative sentiment about me online?” Gaetz told The Hill of the exchange. “And his non sequitur retort was that he was giving out two and a half million dollars to other Republicans at breakfast. And I asked him how much of that money he’d gotten from FTX and Sam Bankman Fried.”
McCarthy, however, denied any involvement in the anti-Gaetz campaign, according to the lawmaker – and his outside legal counsel sent a cease-and-desist to the individual responsible for the solicitations earlier this week. The Speaker told Gaetz that he is busy doing his job and trying to run the conference and essentially said, “I’m not worried about you, Matt,” according to a House Republican.
Gaetz said that McCarthy “mumbled and said that he didn’t think enough of me to do that.”
“I don’t think you believe that, and I don’t think your readers would believe that,” Gaetz said.
A House Republican who requested anonymity to discuss the private exchange told The Hill that Gaetz accused McCarthy of “masterminding outside money attacking him.”
And another House Republican added that it was a “very” testy exchange.
The scuffle came after social media posts circulated on Tuesday with screenshots of a message individuals received from an account soliciting work for an advocacy campaign “against Gaetz and the government shutdown.”
“Howdy! Got an advocacy campaign with budget. Do you do paid posts? If so how do you work? By the way, the issue is against Gaetz and government shut down. Let me know asap!” the message read, according to a photo posted on X by Rogan O’Handley, a conservative commentator. O’Handley claimed that the message was “from a McCarthy proxy.”
Gaetz shared the post, writing “1. Thank you! 2. @SpeakerMcCarthy is pathetic.”
McCarthy’s outside counsel, Elliot S. Berke, sent a cease-and-desist to an individual presumed to be behind the solicitations on Tuesday.
“I understand based on multiple reporter inquiries that reference your name that you are reaching out to social media influencers about a ‘Against Gaetz and government shutdown’ and claiming it is in on behalf of Speaker McCarthy and/or entities purportedly affiliated with the Speaker,” Berke said, according to a copy of the message shared with The Hill. “That is false and in violation of the law. This email puts you on notice that you must immediately cease and desist or we will move forward with all remedies under the law including the pursuit of damages where warranted.”
Politico first reported the cease-and-desist.
The feud between McCarthy and Gaetz — which came into sharp focus during the drawn-out Speaker’s race in January — has boiled over in recent weeks as Gaetz threatens to force a vote on removing McCarthy as Speaker.
The amped-up rhetoric comes as lawmakers are racing the clock to fund the government before the Sept. 30 shutdown deadline. McCarthy has said he wants to pass a GOP-crafted stopgap bill to keep the lights on in Washington beyond Saturday, but a handful of hard-line conservatives — including Gaetz — have said they will not support a continuing resolution under any circumstances.
The Senate advanced a bipartisan stopgap bill on Tuesday that would fund the government until Nov. 17 and includes $6.15 billion for Ukraine and $5.99 billion in disaster assistance. Gaetz warned McCarthy that if he brings the legislation to the floor he would face a vote on his ouster.
McCarthy, for his part, told his members on Wednesday that he will not hold a vote on the measure.
“If the leadership moves a Democrat spending bill to advance Democrat priorities, then there very likely to be a motion to vacate that the Speaker would face,” Gaetz told reporters on Wednesday.
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