The Matt Gaetz Problem That GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy Wishes Would Just Go Away 1

Despite a seemingly daily string of new revelations, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) pressed ahead Thursday with his position that Rep. Matt Gaetz should retain his seats on the Armed Services and Judiciary Committees.

“Matt Gaetz is the same as any American—he’s innocent until proven guilty,” McCarthy said Thursday. “There’s no charges against him yet. If a charge comes forward, that would be dealt with at that time.”

Gaetz, who’s currently under federal investigation for his involvement with an alleged sex ring, also faces a probe from the House Ethics Committee for a litany of potential violations.

“The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Matt Gaetz may have engaged in sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds for personal use, and/or accepted a bribe/improper gratuity, or impermissible gift in violation of House rules,” the Ethics Committee wrote in a letter last week.

But McCarthy continues to insist that everyone needs to “wait for the facts” before Gaetz faces any internal repercussions in Congress, even as he’s insisted that Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) should be stripped of committee assignments for having repeated contact with a woman who turned out to be a Chinese government operative. Swalwell cut off contact as soon as he became aware of the situation, and there are no allegations that he broke any law.

Gaetz’s situation seems far more precarious. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, he has oversight responsibilities of the very same Justice Department that is investigating him—and which he has accused of fomenting a witch hunt against him under President Joe Biden.

But McCarthy ignored that question Thursday. He repeated that Gaetz was innocent until proven guilty, that he had spoken with Gaetz and the Florida Republican said he was innocent, and that he would “let the investigation take care of itself.” (Gaetz has publicly denied wrongdoing.)

The GOP leader’s continued punting on Gaetz comes as his party largely settles into a circumspect stance on the allegations—unless, or until, there are more developments. Most aides believe wider calls for his resignation, or disciplinary measures like a loss of committee assignments, will only come if Gaetz is indicted.

On Wednesday, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the second-ranking House Republican, told reporters that party leadership will “of course react and take action” if “something really formal” happens with the Department of Justice probe.

Meanwhile, rank-and-file Republicans aren’t exactly circling the wagons around the embattled congressman. Most don’t like Gaetz, and the congressman himself acknowledges he has few friends on Capitol Hill. Only close MAGA allies like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) have actively rallied to his defense—Judiciary Committee ranking Republican Jim Jordan (R-OH) to a lesser extent—but even fewer Republicans have tried to build pressure on him to resign.

Only one Republican lawmaker, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, has called on Gaetz to leave office over the allegations, and the two very different Republicans already had an acrimonious beef. Kinzinger’s final straw with Gaetz cited The Daily Beast’s reporting on the congressman’s payments to Joel Greenberg, the Florida official said to have facilitated his access to girls and young women.

Through it all, Gaetz has been defiant. At first, he claimed that the allegations he paid for underage sex were part of a sweeping extortion plot against his family. He has since moved on to framing the rapidly mounting scandal as proof the “deep state” and mainstream media are out to get him.