WASHINGTON — Days before Rep. Matt Gaetz led an effort to oust Kevin McCarthy as House speaker, Gaetz and Rep. Matt Rosendale, a fellow Freedom Caucus member, denounced as a political stunt Republicans’ high-stakes effort to impeach President Joe Biden, according to a video obtained by NBC News.
At an invitation-only fundraiser held over Zoom last week, Gaetz, R-Fla., and Rosendale, who is said to be plotting another Senate run next year, heaped skepticism on the probe.
“I don’t believe that we are endeavoring upon a legitimate impeachment of Joe Biden,” Gaetz told Steve Bannon, a podcaster and onetime political adviser to former President Donald Trump, who was moderating the discussion.
“They’re trying to engage in a, like, ‘forever war’ of impeachment,” Gaetz said. “And like many of our forever wars, it will drag on forever and end in a bloody draw.”
As they fielded questions from high-dollar conservative donors, Gaetz and Rosendale were just days away from moving to end McCarthy’s speakership — and tipping the Republican caucus into its own protracted battle over who will lead the conference.
Gaetz, Rosendale and the small faction of Republicans who ousted McCarthy, R-Calif., still hold tremendous leverage as the House tries to find a replacement. Whether the group could seek to use that leverage to extract concessions from the future speaker — including how the House proceeds on issues like impeachment — is yet to be seen. One of the impeachment leaders is also a candidate for speaker, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.
During the fundraiser, Rosendale joined Gaetz in denouncing the Republicans’ hotly tipped impeachment inquiry.
Rosendale likened Congress’ probe of Biden to the federal indictment of the president’s son Hunter, which critics say has been tainted by preferential treatment and argue is a “smokescreen” intended to deflect attention from more serious crimes they accuse Hunter Biden of having committed, like working for foreign interests to influence U.S. policy.
“They’re doing the exact same thing,” Rosendale said.
Gaetz said: “I just don’t get the sense that it’s for the sake of impeachment. I think it’s for the sake of having another bad thing to say about Joe Biden.”
While Republicans have largely united behind the effort, some misgivings have emerged despite Rep. James Comer’s declaration that the probe had “uncovered a mountain of evidence” that Joe Biden had leveraged his position in office for his family’s gain.
Still, in the video, Gaetz told the attendees he meant no offense to Jordan or Comer, R-Ky., the chair of the Oversight Committee, who are overseeing the closely watched probes. But, he added, according to the recording, “if this was serious, we would have sent a subpoena to Hunter Biden.”
Billed as an “exclusive briefing on federal funding,” according to an invitation seen by NBC News, the event took place Sept. 26 as Congress appeared to be careening toward a government shutdown — a funding fight led by Gaetz and a band of hard-line allies against McCarthy. At the time of the event, Gaetz was days away from launching the effort to unseat McCarthy. Rosendale voted with Gaetz and six other Republicans to oust McCarthy.
Gaetz’s and Rosendale’s remarks are sure to prompt scrutiny as attention mounts on the speakership battle and on where conservative loyalties will fall.
In addition to Jordan, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., is also running for the speaker’s job. Filing the vacancy comes with the potential of a drawn-out conflict between conservative factions.
Gaetz has criticized the impeachment inquiry before. But underpinning the remarks is the tension of whether the sentiment could play into Gaetz’s and Rosendale’s support for Jordan in the speaker’s race.
Asked about his remarks, Gaetz told NBC News: “Kevin wasn’t serious. Jim Jordan is.” Rosendale did not respond to a request for comment.
Gaetz is also contending with backlash among fellow Republicans, who are angry he triggered the vote that allowed eight Republicans to join all of the Democrats to oust McCarthy. Some Republicans have called for expelling Gaetz from the Republican Conference. Jordan said he would not support such a move in an interview Thursday.
NBC News obtained the full video of the event, which Bannon hosted alongside Caroline Wren, a Republican fundraiser who helped organize Trump’s rally near the White House on Jan. 6, 2021.
While Gaetz’s remarks about the impeachment inquiry have not previously been reported, other remarks at the fundraiser had been made public.
During the event, Wren detailed a conversation in which she advised a wealthy donor to leverage a campaign donation to pressure a Gaetz ally who appeared to be wavering about whether to oppose a stopgap funding measure to keep the government open, The Daily Beast reported.
At the same event, Rosendale admitted “praying” that Republicans in the House would have a large majority after the 2022 midterms, the news site The Messenger reported. The small majority has given rebels like Rosendale and Gaetz more leverage. Rosendale did not respond to a request from The Messenger for comment.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com
Evan Massoud is a political analyst with a knack for dissecting policy and governance. He provides readers with informed perspectives on political developments at home and abroad. Evan’s dedication to civic engagement extends to volunteering in local politics.