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In debt ceiling fight, GOP’s Gaetz embraces ‘hostage’ rhetoric

In their debt ceiling fight, Republicans tend to avoid using words like “hostage.” Once in a while, though, some in the GOP offer some welcome candor.


As congressional Republicans use the debt ceiling to threaten to impose an economic catastrophe on their own country, GOP members tend to avoid using words like “hostage.” Democrats, of course, use such terms all the time — in large part because they’re accurate — but Republicans tend to be uncomfortable with the rhetoric.

That’s understandable. After all, hostage takers, practically by definition, tend to be dangerous criminals. In popular culture, stories about those who threaten hostages in extortion schemes are very rarely presented as the good guys. There’s no great mystery as to why Republicans avoid the label, even if they’ve earned it by deliberately putting Americans in harm’s way.

Indeed, the GOP’s allies have pushed back against the “h” word for precisely this reason. Last week, for example, The New York Times published an op-ed from Michael McConnell, a law professor and a former federal appeals court judge, who insisted that the Republican Party’s radical scheme “is not hostage taking.”

Once in a while, however, prominent GOP officials offer some welcome candor on the subject.

In 2011, immediately after the original debt-ceiling fiasco was resolved, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered a chilling assessment of the crisis he helped create. “What we did learn is this — it’s a hostage that’s worth ransoming,” the Kentucky Republican told The Washington Post.

Twelve years later, it was a well-known GOP congressman in the House who used similar phrasing. Semafor reported:

[O]n Tuesday, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz leaned into the charge as he explained to reporters that he and his fellow hardline conservatives would likely reject any sort of compromise deal that watered down the party-line bill Republicans passed through the House. “I think my conservative colleagues for the most part support Limit, Save, Grow, and they don’t feel like we should negotiate with our hostage,” Gaetz told Semafor.

It wasn’t altogether clear whether the right-wing Floridian was referring to President Joe Biden or the United States’ economic wellbeing when he referenced the Republicans’ “hostage,” but either way, the candid comment helped expose the radicalism of the GOP’s dangerous tactics.

In the same interview, Gaetz told Joseph Zeballos-Roig, in reference to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s negotiating posture, “I believe the one-person motion to vacate has given us the best version of Speaker McCarthy and I think he’s doing a good job.”

In other words, the far-right congressman is satisfied with the House speaker, confident in the knowledge that McCarthy is doing the bidding of radicals because he fears they’d take away his gavel if he adopted a more responsible approach.

Why is this process struggling to produce a meaningful result? When making a list, put this near the top.