‘F— off’: Gaetz’s inescapable feud with McCarthy grows more hostile

‘F— off’: Gaetz’s inescapable feud with McCarthy grows more hostile

Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Matt Gaetz’s bad blood has become inescapable on the Hill.

The Californian and the Floridian’s personal animus is spilling into private meetings, prompting conspiracy theories and eliciting f-bombs from other House Republicans – severely disrupting the party’s frantic bid to coalesce around a government funding plan.

The speaker and his most vocal GOP foe got into a heated exchange behind closed doors Thursday morning as Gaetz accused McCarthy of hiring a “proxy” to attack him online via conservative social media influencers. McCarthy’s counsel had sent a cease-and-desist letter to the individual in question and the original post doesn’t mention the Californian, but Gaetz continues to claim the speaker is involved.

“I asked him whether or not he was paying those influencers to post negative things about me online,” Gaetz said Thursday, when asked about his clash with McCarthy during the private meeting.

McCarthy responded, according to Gaetz, that he wouldn’t waste his time or resources on the Floridian. Gaetz downplayed the confrontation, adding: “My blood pressure is like 120 over 80, so I’m feeling great.”

Other House Republicans recall the Thursday meeting differently, though. When Gaetz nodded to conspiratorial claims by suggesting that the speaker was fundraising for House Republicans via a bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange, one McCarthy ally got irritated enough to curse.

“Fuck off,” Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) remarked loudly and with an eye roll in Gaetz’s direction, according to a Republican in the room who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Gaetz’s animosity toward McCarthy is the worst-kept secret in the House, but their tense relationship began affecting the entire House GOP more than a year ago — when the Floridian vowed to nominate former President Donald Trump for speaker.

That clear message of no confidence in McCarthy translated into open resistance on the floor throughout January’s speakership election. Gaetz never cast a ballot for McCarthy, remaining one of six conservatives who – only after 14 failed rounds – agreed to vote “present” in order to let the Californian claim the top gavel.

Gaetz even mocked McCarthy as a “squatter” in the speaker’s office in a letter to the Architect of the Capitol in the middle of that January balloting marathon, referencing the fact McCarthy had moved into the speaker’s physical office in the Capitol before he was elected.

Since McCarthy became speaker, the two men’s relationship has only curdled further.

Gaetz has become the most vocal conservative about a potential vote to oust the speaker — his name was even attached to a resolution declaring the office vacant that a reporter found in a Capitol bathroom — and two weeks ago, he took to the floor to declare McCarthy “out of compliance” with agreements made to win the speakership.

Immediately after the Thursday meeting, Gaetz brushed off questions on whether he was ready to force a vote to boot McCarthy from the speakership. The Floridian has warned that McCarthy is “very likely” to face an ejection vote if he works with Democrats to fund the government.

Despite the clash, Gaetz said his focus is still on passing funding bills.

“Right now we’re going to get individual, single-subject spending bills passed,” he added. “That’s my principle goal.”

McCarthy has hurled his own accusations back at Gaetz at times, even as he shrugs off the threats with “Matt is Matt.” The speaker alleged to reporters earlier this month that Gaetz was working against him alongside Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and referred to frustration over an unspecified ethics complaint.

That comment by McCarthy is a likely reference to the House ethics panel’s still-open investigation into the Floridian, stemming from a now-closed Justice Department inquiry into sex trafficking allegations. McCarthy allies have claimed this has fueled the hostility towards the speaker — a claim Gaetz allies deny.

Jordain Carney contributed to this report.

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