America is now living under the Gaetz Congress. That is, a House of Representatives bearing all the blemishes of Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican. In other words, a hub of chaos and ill-conceived ideas.
Sure, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy may technically have the shiny title — one that presumes his authority over the chamber. But as House Republicans fight one another over whether and how to fund the federal government, Gaetz has been cracking the whip on McCarthy and using the spending debate to impose ideological purity tests on fellow Republicans.
The result? A whole lot more rancor in the GOP ranks, courtesy of Rep. Florida Man.
Gaetz has been a thorn in McCarthy’s side ever since the California Republican declared his bid for speaker, with the Floridian propping up challengers. When it comes to the negotiations over this weekend’s shutdown deadline, I’d argue that Gaetz threw down the gauntlet when he recently demanded that McCarthy be brought “into immediate total compliance” with “the agreement that allowed you to assume this role” — or face removal as speaker.
It was a rather demeaning display of insubordination by Gaetz, who has earned blowback from fellow Republicans over his willingness (read: eagerness) to shut down the government if right-wingers don’t get what they want out of the spending negotiations. Republicans from districts won by Joe Biden in 2020 — such as Rep. Mike Lawler of New York — have been warning about what a shutdown could do to Americans and the economy.
In a Newsmax interview over the weekend, Gaetz characterized his fellow Republicans’ insistence on continuing resolutions, or short-term spending agreements, as reflective of a “disease” that has infected Congress. Gaetz claimed a “small, temporary” shutdown might be “worth it” for Republicans if it permanently alters the budgeting process.
Understandably, many Republicans don’t seem all that comfortable relying on the political wisdom of a man whose judgment — at the very least — is extremely questionable. But Gaetz appears willing to coerce them by any means necessary.
Just last week, he led a push to remove Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, from her role as chair of the House Appropriations Committee for leaving a meeting where ultraconservative lawmakers had hoped to reach agreement on their extreme budget cuts. Axios reported that Granger left the meeting to attend a fundraising reception; Gaetz said Republicans “need to fire” her.
In an interview Saturday, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican who was part of the disastrous GOP-led shutdown in 2013, said Gaetz is among several Republicans with an outsize interest in posturing for social media. (Gaetz definitely appears more interested in podcasting than actual legislating these days.)
But whatever Gaetz’s motivations may be, it looks like he’s in the driver’s seat — with McCarthy merely along for the ride. And Gaetz might just drive off a cliff, with America’s economy inside.