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Kevin McCarthy rips Matt Gaetz over ethics probe at surprise press conference

Raw feelings evident as former speaker holds court on Capitol Hill as a private citizen for the first time

John Bowden,Eric Garcia
Thursday 15 February 2024 07:32 GMT
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Related video: Kevin McCarthy says he’d ‘do it all again’ in goodbye speech to Congress

The ousted speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, was back on Capitol Hill on Tuesday where he gave his first press conference since leaving the House of Representatives in December.

And he had one target in mind: Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, the Republican who led a group of rebels to oust Mr McCarthy from his speakership last year with the support of the chamber’s Democrats.

Mr McCarthy answered a question from The Independent about Mr Gaetz’s resolution to defend Donald Trump, the former president and current 2024 GOP frontrunner, from accusations of leading an “insurrection” on January 6. The passage of such a resolution would come as Mr Trump is under criminal indictment for attempting to obstruct congressional proceedings certifying the 2020 election results when a massive mob of his supporters stormed the US Capitol.

Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (L) talks to Rep.-elect Matt Gaetz (R-FL) in the House Chamber on 6 January 2023 (Getty Images)

It would also serve as an attempt to shield Mr Trump from legal challenges aimed at kicking him off the 2024 ballot in states around the country; the 14th Amendment bars those who have supported rebellion or insurrection against the United States from holding federal office.

“Is he trying to deflect from what's happening in [E]thics? I don't know what happened,” said the former speaker, referring to the House Ethics Committee, which is investigating Mr Gaetz. The Department of Justice declined to bring sex-trafficking charges against the congressman after conducting a similar investigation.

Mr McCarthy was then pressed about the Ethics investigation itself, and answered that he didn’t know much about the investigation — but claimed that Mr Gaetz had been “very concerned” about it while Mr McCarthy was still speaker, and had asked the speaker “to do something about it”.

But he wouldn’t, Mr McCarthy, went on, because that “would be illegal”.

The former speaker wasn’t done. At another point in the press conference, he also appeared to make another reference to his enemy’s Ethics probe, or at the very least his sex life: “He probably lies about who he sleeps with too.”

Mr Gaetz responded to a tweet quoting that particular remark: “What stage of grief is this?”

He also responded to Mr McCarthy’s charge that his resolution declaring Mr Trump innocent of leading an insurrection was a distraction: “70 members of the House have now joined me in this resolution. Apparently they’ve moved on. The disgraced former speaker should too.”

The sharp words traded between the two men represent far more than a mere personal spat.

Since his voluntary resignation at the end of December, Mr McCarthy has reportedly been on the warpath. Reporting from Politico and other outlets indicates that he is backing a sprawling effort to recruit and support primary candidates against the Republicans who voted for his ouster in the fall — Mr Gaetz, and others including South Carolina’s Nancy Mace and Tenessee’s Tim Burchett.

Mr Burchett revealed to The Daily Beast that those machinations have already led to some “very wealthy” donors ending, or at least pausing, their financial support for his reelection bid.

Those same Republicans may receive a boost, however, from Mr McCarthy’s successor. As Politico first reported, Speaker Mike Johnson, himself frequently seen as closer with rightwing conservatives in the House of Representatives, is set to headline a fundraiser for Mr Burchett on Friday.

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