As the House hurtles toward adjournment, Gaetz leads the resistance | ET REALITY


In a closed-door meeting with Republicans in the Capitol basement Wednesday night, Speaker Kevin McCarthy presented what he thought could finally be a breakthrough in a spending dispute with right-wing rebels that had left the House in a state of paralysis. facing a disastrous closure with no way forward.

Then Representative Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican who months ago emerged as McCarthy’s main tormentor, spoke.

Gaetz flatly announced that he had seven members who would oppose any plan to pass a stopgap measure to prevent the government from shutting down on October 1, no matter what spending or political concessions McCarthy was willing to make to win them over. . The proclamation was not well received in the room, where even some members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus complained disapprovingly.

But after the meeting, McCarthy quietly approached Gaetz and asked him to share the list of names, which Gaetz happily handed over.

“They’re immovable,” Gaetz said confidently. In fact, the list seemed to be growing.

With a fractured House in chaos, a government shutdown all but certain and McCarthy trying to keep his job, Gaetz has emerged once again as an influential figure on Capitol Hill, the determined ringleader of a small group of right-wingers. rebels who are willing to sow disorder and dissension regardless of the consequences.

And unlike the president, who has repeatedly shown this week that he is incapable of corralling Republicans into doing his bidding, Gaetz appears to have (at least for now) enough votes to dictate how or if the House will operate.

“If you look at the events of the last two weeks,” he told reporters at the Capitol this week, “things seem to be going in my favor.”

For now, that means the House is moving forward with an unlikely plan, pushed by Gaetz, to debate next week a series of individual spending bills that will do nothing to keep the government open, leaving the urgent task of passing a temporary measure to keep federal funds flowing before it expires at midnight on September 30.

“We have to break the fever” of continuing to pass short-term funding bills, Gaetz told the Rules Committee on Friday, vowing to oppose any version that comes before him.

After all, passing the individual spending bills was a commitment McCarthy made during his run to become president, noted Gaetz, who led the group of right-wing resisters who held out for 14 rounds before finally agreeing to allow Mr. McCarthy, a California Republican, to win the gavel.

Last week, Gaetz addressed the room for a combative speech in which he declared McCarthy “reneging” on concessions he made to the far right during that long struggle. If McCarthy continued to push for a stopgap spending measure, Gaetz said he would then begin each legislative day in Congress with “the prayer, the pledge and the motion to vacate,” a measure to remove McCarthy from the presidency. .

(Upon hearing Gaetz’s planned speech, McCarthy preempted the barrage with an announcement of his own, hastily gathering reporters outside his office to announce that he was opening an impeachment inquiry into President Biden, a move that the far right had demanded for months.)

“McCarthy just doesn’t seem to want to confront them,” Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said Friday, using a graphic phrase to describe the excruciatingly painful hold Gaetz and his far-right compatriots seem to have. on the speaker. “If he thinks this is the way we should do things, he is not only the weakest speaker I have ever seen, but the most incompetent I have ever seen.”

On Friday, McCarthy allies attempted to downplay Gaetz’s influence, noting that they have been working to advance individual spending bills since July.

“We are not at the end of the road,” Rep. Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina, a top McCarthy ally, said of passage of a stopgap funding bill. “It is a journey for many members. “They need to see a lot of other actions to feel comfortable with the things that need to happen.”

As for members who, for personal or political reasons, would never be won over by McCarthy, he said: “We are awake to that reality. This is not new. This is something known.”

But with only a four-vote margin of control in the House, that reality has greatly empowered Gaetz, the son of a wealthy Florida businessman turned lawmaker who was investigated by the Justice Department for sex trafficking but never charged.

Gaetz also has some influential allies on his side. His push against a temporary spending bill gained momentum when former President Donald J. Trump weighed in on his website, Truth Social, urging Republicans to vote against a temporary funding measure for a government he accused of being used as a weapon against him.

“They failed on the debt limit, but they must not fail now,” Trump wrote, referring to right-wing opposition to the deal McCarthy made with President Biden to avoid a federal debt default.

“I think there may have been some hesitant people who were persuaded by that statement,” Gaetz said in an interview. “I see it as something transcendental.”

And while McCarthy and his lieutenants desperately search for a way to avoid a funding disruption, Gaetz argued that a government shutdown could be just what is needed to break Washington’s addiction to spending.

“I’m certainly not in favor of a shutdown,” Gaetz said. “There are tens of thousands in my district who will be left without pay. But not all days of closure are equally painful.”

A “mini shutdown” (lasting six or eight days, short enough that most people won’t miss their paycheck) could help “break the fever,” he said, adding: “It gives us the most spending boost that changes the paradigm in Washington.”

Still, if Gaetz had a goal beyond shutting down the government and humiliating McCarthy, it was unclear what it was. Talk of changing the spending paradigm in Washington seemed unrealistic at a time when Democrats control the Senate and the White House, and it was unclear why a shutdown wouldn’t last much longer than Gaetz said he would prefer. .

Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, another top McCarthy ally, said a shutdown was the opposite of a conservative stance and that each day of delay gave Democrats more leverage. “You’re giving people a vacation,” he said. “Federal employees are being given zero days of work, but they are getting paid every day.”

Gaetz spent Friday frantically trying to determine which members were still in Washington and could work with him. There were few profits; Many lawmakers had left town Thursday afternoon after McCarthy canceled votes for the rest of the week.

Gaetz and other members had spent most of the previous day in the office of Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the whip, whom he called an honest broker. But there was little progress.

“We know he can’t make anything happen,” Gaetz said of Emmer, the No. 3 House Republican. “It’s a good sounding board, it has nice conference rooms and it doesn’t lie to us. We begged Emmer to keep everyone in town. “Emmer agreed with us, and yet the speaker made an unfortunate decision.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who joined other right-wing Republicans this week in blocking a Pentagon spending bill, had left town and planned to hold an “emergency town hall” in her district, which she was broadcasting on Rumble.

Rep. Eli Crane of Arizona, another far-right group, took the opposite approach and posted a video from the gym telling everyone he had stayed in town.

“The way we do things in this city has to change,” he said. “Unfortunately, the only way to make change in this city is through force.”

Kayla Guo contributed reports.

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