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House Speaker McCarthy defends leadership, cites Gaetz personal issues


House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday lashed out at Rep. Matt Gaetz, saying that the fellow Republican lawmaker who is seeking to oust him has “personal things in his life that he has challenges with.”

McCarthy’s jab on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” came less than two hours before he told the Republican caucus that he would bring Gaetz’s motion to vacate his speakership to the House floor Tuesday afternoon.

In February, the Department of Justice ended a two-year criminal sex trafficking investigation of Gaetz without filing charges against the Florida congressman.

McCarthy on Tuesday accused Gaetz of targeting him because of a House ethics investigation into Gaetz’s conduct that was also the subject of the criminal probe.

“He’s blaming me for an ethics complaint against him that happened in the last Congress,” McCarthy said. “I have nothing to do with it.”

“He wants me to try to wipe that away,” McCarthy said.

“I’m not going to do that. That’s illegal,” the California lawmaker said.

“And you know what? If some way I lose my job because I uphold the law [and the] continuity of government, so be it.”

Asked for comment, a spokesman for Gaetz referred CNBC to remarks the congressman made about McCarthy on Monday.

“For some people, policy failures are recast as personal because their own failures are personally embarrassing to them,” Gaetz had said.

Gaetz on Monday night filed a resolution that seeks to remove McCarthy as speaker.

Gaetz’s move came two days after McCarthy, with Democratic support, passed a stopgap funding bill in the House that avoided a government shutdown.

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McCarthy won the gavel in January after 14 failed votes and overcoming opposition from a conservative bloc led by Gaetz.

To win on the 15th ballot, McCarthy granted concessions to Gaetz’s clique, which included allowing any individual lawmaker to file a motion to vacate.

“Matt Gaetz had planned to do this from the very beginning,” McCarthy said Tuesday on “Squawk Box.”

“He has personal things in his life that he has challenges with. That’s fine,” McCarthy said. But “this is just confusing in the process” of keeping the government funded beyond the next few weeks, he said.

The House Ethics Committee, which is led by Republicans, in July reopened an investigation into allegations against Gaetz, including sexual misconduct and drug use, CNN reported that month.

McCarthy’s effort to keep his speaker position comes as congressional leaders work to craft a bill to fund the government before it expires.

The short-term funding bill that President Joe Biden signed Saturday night after it passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support will keep the government open for just 45 days.

Gaetz warned McCarthy in recent weeks that he would move to oust him if the speaker worked with Democrats to pass a stopgap funding bill.

Because Republicans hold just a narrow majority in the House, McCarthy can only afford to lose a handful of GOP votes if no Democrats in the House back him over a challenger promoted by Gaetz and his fellow hard-liners.

Democrats are weighing their options.

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