Since news of the probe broke last week, Gaetz has fronted a rapid response effort, attempting to muddle the facts with bizarre statements and media appearances to clear his name in the court of public opinion – or at least with the Republican base.
A potential indictment, however, complicates Gaetz's apparent plan to cast the federal investigation as a symptom of America's culture war that Republicans have relentlessly fused to drive voter outrage. There's also the sheer fact that Gaetz… is just not Trump.
- And he doesn't plan on resigning, as he continues to deny the allegations.
- Silent treatment: MAGA-world, including Trump himself, a “group that often instinctively decries any such charge as part of some nefarious, coordinated witch hunt from deep-state operators has, instead, said virtually nothing at all," reports Politico.
- Why? Many factors, Politico's Gabby Orr, Meredith McGraw and Sam Stein report, including Gaetz is seen as a “grenade whose pin had already been pulled;" he “had a reputation for a wild personal lifestyle that, associates say, occasionally bordered on reckless.”
- Key quote: “Some of Gaetz’s own aides would regularly send embarrassing videos of their boss to other GOP operatives, according to two people familiar with the videos,” Politico writes.
- “There's always two audiences when you're dealing with Gaetz and Trump — the world at large and then the core of the Trump base,” Mac Stipanovich, a Florida based GOP operative, told Power Up. “He can make no mistake with the core of the Trump base but as for the rest of the world, he's not Donald Trump.”
- “It only works for Donald Trump,” a former Trump administration official told us about Gaetz's response to the allegations.
- “Just like Bill O’Reilly and Mark Halperin, it’s only a matter of time until [Gaetz] joins Newsmax,” the former Trump administration official added, referring to once prominent D.C. figures accused of sexual misconduct who have found a new home at the conservative outlet.
Gaetz has only seen a handful of GOPers leap to his defense, including Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who have been plagued by their own scandals. The GOP's long leash of forgiveness for Trump — who was accused of sexual misconduct by 16 women — has so far eluded the congressman known for his fervent allegiance to the ex-president.
- “Those are serious implications. If it comes out to be true, yes, we would remove him if that's the case,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Fox News last week about dumping Gaetz from committees. “But right now, Matt Gaetz says that it's not true and we don't have any information. So let's get all the information.”
- Katie Hill, a California Democrat who faced an ethics investigation two years ago after sexual photos of her with her campaign staffer appeared online, called on Gaetz to resign: “Matt and I forged an unlikely friendship in Congress, and he was one of the few colleagues who spoke out after a malicious nude-photo leak upended my life. But if recent reports are true, he engaged in the very practice he defended me from—and should resign immediately,” Hill wrote in Vanity Fair.
After claiming last week the allegations against him were “rooted in an extortion effort against my family,” Gaetz published an op-ed in the Washington Examiner on Monday portraying himself as a victim of “the swamp” targeted for taking on “the most powerful institutions in the Beltway: the establishment; the FBI; the Biden Justice Department; the Cheney political dynasty; even the Justice Department under Trump.”
- Gaetz wrote “some of my feckless colleagues in Congress” will call for him to step down. He also denied ever having paid for sex and wrote that he had not “slept with a 17-year-old.”
- “I’m sure some partisan crooks in Merrick Garland’s Justice Department want to pervert the truth and the law to go after me,” Gaetz wrote.
Notable: The investigation into Gaetz, however, was opened under Trump's loyal Attorney General William P. Barr, who was briefed on the probe “and did not take issue with it,” Politico's Matt Dixon and Betsy Woodruff Swan reported.
- “Barr and the Office of the Attorney General received multiple briefings on the Gaetz probe, beginning in the summer of 2020, a second person familiar with the probe said. They encouraged Florida prosecutors to move as quickly as they needed to and take whatever steps were appropriate.”
- “The briefing was important because — among other reasons — Barr didn't want to accidentally appear anywhere with Gaetz, the person said. At one point, Barr was scheduled for a meet-and-greet with Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. But DOJ canceled his appearance at the event when they saw that Gaetz, a member of that committee, had RSVP'd for it,” per Dixon and Woodruff Swan.
A former “military adviser” to Gaetz, ex-Air Force Capt. Nathaniel Nelson, was also deployed on Monday to further distract from the investigation into whether he violated federal sex trafficking laws.
- “ … the press conference called by [Nelson] did little except to reveal that the FBI grilled him about whether he knew of any law-breaking by Gaetz and about his own plan to bring to a military supercomputer to the Florida panhandle,” the Daily Beast's William Bredderman reports.
- “ … when reporters pressed Nelson on whether he could refute the reports that Gaetz had inappropriate or illegal relationships with much younger women, the veteran admitted he could not.”
- Nelson told our colleague Matt Zapotosky “he wanted to hold the press conference essentially to preempt what he viewed as a false report that he knew about illegal activities involving Gaetz.”
On the Hill
DEMOCRATS SCORE BIG ON RECONCILIATION: “Democrats can pass another major piece of legislation — such as President Biden’s $2 trillion-plus infrastructure plan — by revisiting the budget process they used to approve his coronavirus relief package without Republican support,” Politico’s Caitlin Emma reports.
- “The decision represents a major expansion of the reconciliation process that allows passage of some bills with a simple Senate majority. That stretch of reconciliation empowers any party in full control of Washington to use the tool as often as they want.”
- “But the procedural leeway of using the budget process to make that happen may not be a panacea for the majority party: All 50 Democratic senators will have to go along with the approach, which moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have advised against using a second time.”
- “While Democratic leaders haven’t officially decided to exclude Republicans in pursuit of Biden’s infrastructure ambitions, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has vowed that none of his 50-member GOP conference would support Biden’s new spending bill.”
But Democrats have a bigger problem: “Speaking on a West Virginia radio station, Manchin said he would vote against Biden’s proposal to raise the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent, instead saying the rate should be set at 25 percent,” our colleagues Jeff Stein and Tony Romm report. Democrats want to use a corporate tax hike to help pay for their infrastructure package.
- “Even if all other Democrats support the plan, Manchin’s opposition would likely be enough to kill it.”
BUT…THE GOP ISN'T HAPPY WITH CORPS. EITHER RIGHT NOW: “Republicans are attacking corporations over their decision to condemn the controversial Georgia voting law, part of the party’s embrace of the populism espoused by President Donald Trump,” our colleagues Marianna Sotomayor and Todd C. Frankel report.
- McConnell: “From election law to environmentalism to radical social agendas to the Second Amendment, parts of the private sector keep dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government,” he said in a statement Monday. “Businesses must not use economic blackmail to spread disinformation.”
- Trump: “For years the Radical Left Democrats have played dirty by boycotting products when anything from that company is done or stated in any way that offends them. Now they are going big time with WOKE CANCEL CULTURE and our sacred elections,” he said on Saturday. “It is finally time for Republicans and Conservatives to fight back.”
- “The outcry grew significantly after Major League Baseball on Friday announced that it is relocating the annual All-Star Game from the home of the Atlanta Braves because of the Georgia law,” per Sotomayor and Frankel.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on MLB's decision:
What it means: “The acrimony between Republicans and large companies underscores the party’s increasingly fraying relationship with corporate America over social and cultural issues as GOP leaders grapple with the direction of the party after the 2020 election,” per Sotomayor and Frankel.
- Republicans “are signaling to their base that this is a cultural war — and that they are martyrs in the culture war,” Andra Gillespie, associate professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta told our colleagues.
- “The result is an increasingly partisan debate … [that] could threaten how Americans view elections at a time when distrust in government institutions is already on the rise,” the Hill’s Brett Samuels reports.
From the courts
POLICE CHIEF GIVES SCATHING TESTIMONY DURING CHAUVIN TRIAL: The second week of witness testimony in former Minneapolis police officer Dereck Chauvin’s murder trial kicked off with testimony from Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.
- “During one of the most anticipated moments in the trial, Arradondo unequivocally told the court that Chauvin had failed to follow policies on de-escalation, use of force and offering medical aid to those in need when he ignored George Floyd’s cries for help while the man lay pinned beneath his knee,” our colleagues Holly Bailey and Mark Berman report.
- “The chief’s testimony underscored the degree to which law enforcement groups have sought to distance themselves from the death of Floyd, which prompted condemnations from police officers, chiefs and unions across the country. Even Chauvin’s own union said he should have been fired,” the New York Times’s Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Shaila Dewan and John Eligon report.
- The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that Arradondo's testimony is “seen by some veteran lawyers as a fresh crack in the longstanding ‘blue wall’ code of silence by police … his comments also took on broader implications for a department whose culture has long discouraged officers from criticizing a colleague's conduct — at least publicly."
Outside the Beltway
U.S. SHATTERS VACCINATION RECORD: “More than 4 million people in the United States received a coronavirus vaccine Saturday — the nation’s highest one-day total since the shots began rolling out in December,” our colleague Karin Brulliard reports.
- “An average of 3.1 million shots were administered each day over the past seven days, and nearly 1 in 4 adults are now fully vaccinated, said Andy Slavitt, the White House’s senior adviser for covid-19 response, speaking at a news briefing.”
- “But the country’s accelerating vaccination campaign is competing against rising caseloads. Over the past week, the seven-day average of new daily cases rose 7 percent to 64,000, said Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
- “The new cases are occurring ‘predominantly in younger adults,’ between the ages of 18 and 24, many of whom are not yet eligible for vaccination, Walensky said.”
Meanwhile, poorer nations need vaccines. “Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday called for speeding up the distribution of coronavirus vaccines in poorer nations, arguing the United States and global economies are threatened by the impact of covid-19 on the developing world,” our colleague Jeff Stein reports.
- “While the United States and other rich countries are hoping for a return to normalcy as soon as this fall, many parts of the developing world are not on pace to have widespread vaccination of their populations until 2023 or 2024.”
- But “Yellen’s calls for a forceful global effort face significant head winds. The Biden administration has resisted pressure to change intellectual property rules in a way that would allow more countries to produce coronavirus vaccines. Refusing to do so could make it harder to vaccinate billions of people in poorer parts of the world such as in Africa and parts of South America and Asia.”
For example: “The P. 1 variant, which packs a suite of mutations that make it more transmissible and potentially more dangerous, is no longer just Brazil’s problem. It’s South America’s problem — and the world’s,” our colleagues Lucien Chauvin, Anthony Faiola and Terrence McCoy report.
- “Hospital systems across South America are being pushed to their limits. Uruguay, one of South America’s wealthiest nations and a success story early in the pandemic, is barreling toward a medical system failure. Health officials say Peru is on the precipice, with only 84 intensive care beds left at the end of March. The intensive care system in Paraguay, roiled by protests last month over medical shortcomings, has run out of hospital beds.”
- The solution? Inoculation. But “coronavirus vaccines are South America’s white whale: often discussed, but rarely seen. The continent hasn’t distributed its own vaccine or negotiated a regional agreement with pharmaceutical companies. It’s one of the world’s hardest-hit regions but has administered only 6 percent of the world’s vaccine doses.”
BAYLOR ENDS GONZANGA'S UNDEFEATED SEASON, CLAIMS FIRST MEN'S BASKETBALL NCAA TITLE: “Baylor, which spent the early part of the century as a men’s basketball hellscape, spent Monday night as a brilliant, kinetic credit to its sport. It became the 37th program to win a national championship,” 86-70, our colleague Chuck Culpepper reports.