With a government shutdown just two days away, Republicans in the House gathered behind closed doors Thursday to hammer out their divisions and reach a consensus to avert crisis.
At least, that was the plan before Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) blew up a House GOP conference meeting to instead demand an answer to his No. 1 question: Is Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) paying people to troll me on the internet?
Conservative influencers have been seen attempting to promote their negative media campaign against Gaetz, and there’s been a suggestion that McCarthy and his allies are behind it. But when aggressively questioned in a conference meeting Thursday, the speaker maintained he had nothing to do with the trolling.
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) September 26, 2023
“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. “And his non sequitur retort was that he was giving out two and a half million dollars to other Republicans at breakfast.”
McCarthy has denied any involvement with the social media campaign and reportedly told Gaetz he’s not worth the time or money anyway.
The entire endeavor not only underscores the significant rift among House Republicans who have been unable to agree on even the most basic measures to keep the government funded, but also the wild unseriousness of the debates that are standing in the way of functional governance.
Sources told CNN that House members derided Gaetz after his outburst in the meeting, referring to him as a “scumbag” and telling him to promptly “fuck off.”
The trolling allegations so irked McCarthy that at his direction the speaker’s outside counsel filed a cease-and-desist to the influencer network behind the posts, Politico reported.
“This email puts you on notice that you must immediately cease and desist or we will move forward with all remedies under the law influencing the pursuit of damages where warranted,” McCarthy’s lawyer, Elliot Berke, wrote.
Gaetz has imperiled McCarthy’s efforts to keep the government functioning at every turn, threatening to call a vote ousting the speaker if his demands and those of his far-right allies go unmet.
The Florida Republican’s demands have doomed the prospect of the House moving ahead with a Senate-crafted bipartisan plan to keep the government open, which McCarthy has vowed to avoid even voting on.
Republicans have instead opted to continue fumbling over their own version of the spending package, which—even if they are able to cut through their divisions and pass it—would be dead on arrival in the Senate.
As the prospect of a shutdown grows and Republicans fail to put forward their own plan, the federal government has begun to notify workers that they may be among the millions of people who will not be paid as the government grinds to a halt.