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Why the next 7 days will be critical for Matt Gaetz

On Thursday night, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger became the first House Republican to call for Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz (R) to resign amid a federal investigation into sex trafficking allegations.

Kinzinger’s decision to be the first off the fence when it comes to Gaetz isn’t terribly surprising given that the Illinois Republican has been one of the most outspoken critics of former President Donald Trump and his closest allies, which very much includes Gaetz.

The key question is whether Kinzinger’s public pronouncement on Gaetz makes it easier for other GOP members to join him in calling for the Florida Republican to step aside or whether Kinzinger remains a lone wolf on the GOP side on this issue — as he has long been in his willingness to publicly criticize Trump.

We’ll find out soon enough. After a two-week Easter recess, Congress is coming back to Washington on Monday. Which means that lots and lots of House Republicans are going to get asked lots and lots of questions about whether Gaetz should stay or go. And unlike when they are on recess and can simply refuse to return reporters’ phone calls, dodging every reporter in the Capitol is basically impossible when Congress is in session. (There are a lot of secret entrances in and out of the US Capitol building, but the best reporters know them all.)

Which means that every GOP member — from the rank-and-file to the party leaders — has to have some sort of Gaetz comment ready as they board their flights back to Washington early next week. That, in and of itself, would be a major change from the almost complete silence from House Republicans since the Gaetz story (or, really, series of stories) broke late last month.

To date, this is House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s response to Gaetz: “I just read the story. Those are serious implications.” He said that on Fox News on March 31 — before adding: “If it comes out to be true, yes, we would remove him [from committees] if that were the case. Right now, Matt Gaetz says it is not true, and we don’t have any information. So, let’s get all the information.”

McCarthy, as well as the 2nd and 3rd ranking Republicans in House leadership — Steve Scalise (Louisiana) and Liz Cheney (Wyoming), respectively — didn’t return calls earlier this week by CNN seeking comment about Gaetz’s situation.

That silence could mean any one of several things:

1) McCarthy and the rest of the Party leadership are calibrating and coordinating their response to speak as one voice when they finally do speak — presumably early next week.

2) House Republicans are staying silent to let Gaetz twist in the wind since he has not exactly made a lot of friends during his time on Washington.

3) House Republicans, still cowed by Trump, are unwilling to condemn Gaetz or call on him to be removed from committees or resign for fear of angering the former President and his band of supporters.

No matter the reason it’s going to get increasingly difficult for Republicans — starting Monday — to maintain their silence. Which means that the next week should not only answer the question of what their silence means but also provide us with some sense of where Gaetz’s future lies.

If I had to guess, I would think that most members still try to dodge by insisting that the investigation isn’t yet concluded and until it is they will reserve comment. There may be a few more who join Kinzinger, seeing it either a matter of principle and/or a chance to pay back Gaetz. And a handful of Freedom Caucus types — like Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan — are likely to continue to defend Gaetz and suggest this is all nothing more than some sort of “deep state” conspiracy. (Worth noting: The investigation began during the Trump administration with the Department of Justice run by Attorney General Bill Barr.)

No matter how many of his colleagues speak out against him — whether calling for him to be removed from committees or, like Kinzinger, to resign — Gaetz seems likely to try to stick it out. He has repeatedly pledged he will not resign — most recently in an op-ed for the Washington Examiner earlier this week — and is under no obligation to do so, even if every single one of his GOP colleagues called for it. (New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, remains in office despite facing calls to resign from both US senators and a slew of House members from his state.)

But Gaetz has already made clear that he is looking for ways out of Congress. Maybe if enough pressure is exerted on him by his colleagues, he just peaces out rather than deal with the negative attention.

We’ll likely know whether that pressure is going to come within the next seven days — or sooner.

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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