House Republicans are aiming their fire at Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) after the congressman staged a successful effort to oust Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as Speaker, sharply criticizing the Florida Republican for teaming up with Democrats to boot the GOP leader and hurling personal insults his way.
Taking matters a step further, at least two GOP lawmakers have said Gaetz should be booted from the House Republican Conference, an unlikely outcome that, nonetheless, underscores the raw frustration — and anger — with Gaetz among members of his party.
The amped-up rhetoric comes as the House GOP conference is being forced back into square one — electing a new Speaker — as the government shutdown clock ticks down to the fast-approaching Nov. 17 funding deadline.
The converging dynamics have House Republicans starting to lash out — with Gaetz taking a large chunk of the heat.
“Matt Gaetz just got schooled by AOC and others; he was totally manipulated into doing this,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a close McCarthy ally, told reporters Wednesday. “There were eight so-called Republicans that got together with 208 Democrats to oust the Republican Speaker.”
“I can’t believe he’s that stupid to be used, to be manipulated by AOC and others to create this outcome,” he added.
Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.) said Gaetz’s move to eject McCarthy from the Speakership amounted to “one of the greatest acts of heresy.”
“He’s literally taken one of our oldest institutions and put it into a downward spiral, all over selfish needs, all over Twitter feeds and raising money,” D’Esposito said during an interview on CNN.
McCarthy, during remarks following Tuesday’s vote, said Gaetz’s effort was “personal” and “all about getting attention” from the press.
In a historic vote Tuesday, the House voted to oust McCarthy from the Speakership, putting an end to his nearly nine-month tenure on the job that had been defined by his efforts to manage the party’s right-flank in the face of growing threats to his gavel.
Eight Republicans, led by Gaetz, voted with all Democrats in the chamber to boot McCarthy, bringing the final tally to 216-210. It was the first time since 1910 that the House voted on a “motion to vacate the chair” and the first time such a motion has succeeded.
McCarthy then announced he would not run for Speaker again, setting off a scramble in the GOP conference over who will succeed the California Republican in the top spot. In the meantime, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) was named Speaker pro tempore and will preside over the House, but the chamber is unable to conduct legislative business until a new Speaker is chosen.
Immediately after the vote Tuesday, Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told reporters that Gaetz should be removed from the House GOP conference, adding “he’s not a Republican.”
Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) — who said Tuesday that he would have hit Gaetz “square between the eyes” with the Speaker’s gavel — echoed Bacon’s sentiment Wednesday, saying he believes the Florida Republican should be kicked out of the conference.
Punchbowl News reported Wednesday night that Lawler said he is considering offering a motion to expel Gaetz from the group.
To be sure, booting Gaetz from the House GOP conference would be a heavy lift, requiring agreement from two-thirds of members. Asked about expelling Gaetz from the conference, Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) questioned if his Florida colleague broke any rules.
“We don’t kick people out ‘cause we don’t like ‘em,” Armstrong said. “God, we’d be doing that every morning in conference.”
Graves also brushed aside questions about potentially ousting Gaetz from the conference, saying it would have to be a decision for the group to make.
Gaetz, for his part, is disregarding the criticism being directed toward him. Asked about Lawler’s “square between the eyes” comment and if he expects to be expelled by the conference, Gaetz returned fire.
“I think that that was a very frustrated person who’s having to come to grips with the stages of grief,” Gaetz told Bloomberg TV of Lawler.
“I’m not much for political violence; I don’t want to hit anybody,” he later added. “If Mike Lawler comes at me with a gavel, I’m not entirely sure that would concern me, but that’s not the direction I think we ought to go. I think we ought to maybe craft a budget before an attack strategy.”
Gaetz has also drawn substantial criticism from Republicans for fundraising off of his effort to oust McCarthy. Graves presented a screenshot of a fundraising blast that he says Gaetz — whom he called a clown — sent out during debate on his motion to vacate.
He accused the Florida Republican of capitalizing on a “manufactured crisis.”
“If we’re gonna continue to have clowns like Matt Gaetz as part of the Republican conference, as part of this Congress, then you’re gonna have to have rules in place that prevent him from doing his charade every single week, every single month, where he goes out and he does his thing where he creates some manufactured crisis … does his manufactured crisis using official government resources, official government actions, manufactures a crisis and then goes and sends out fundraising emails off of the crisis manufacturer,” Graves said.
“I think this should be illegal. I think people should be in jail for this crap.”
“I mean, we’re getting email fundraisers from him as he’s doing it. Join in quickly,” McCarthy said Tuesday, referring to Gaetz’s motion to vacate-related fundraising efforts. “That’s not governing; that’s not becoming of a member of Congress.”
And Gaetz is facing claims of hypocrisy.
The Florida lawmaker for weeks had been heightening his threat to force a vote on confiscating McCarthy’s gavel, warning the then-Speaker that he would face a motion to vacate if he relied on Democrats to pass a continuing resolution — which the California Republican did last weekend to avert a shutdown. Gaetz, instead, wanted the chamber to pass all 12 appropriations bills.
D’Esposito said Gaetz criticized McCarthy for working with Democrats, but “yesterday he worked with Democrats, some of the most progressive and far-leaning left in the conference, in order to take Kevin McCarthy out. He is by every stretch of the definition a complete hypocrite.”
McCarthy’s ouster came three days after he put the continuing resolution on the floor.
The successful motion to vacate has put the House at a standstill, with legislative business — including the appropriations process — unable to proceed until a new Speaker is chosen, a reality that is causing concern with lawmakers as they race the clock to fund the government ahead of next month’s shutdown deadline.
“There’re 12 appropriations bills, those bills are all moving. Now, the ones that aren’t moving, it’s for one reason: It’s because Matt Gaetz and some of the cronies have single-handedly prevented or obstructed those from moving forward,” Graves said Wednesday.
The Louisiana Republican re-upped a familiar metaphor he has used to describe the GOP rabble-rousers.
“Once again, the arsonists who lit their house on fire, who whined about their House being on fire, who put out the fire, wants credit for it, and sets up a GoFundMe site to get paid for it,” he said. “Complete hypocrisy.”
Miranda Nazzaro contributed.