Reps. Steve Scalise and Matt Gaetz met Wednesday to discuss leaked audio of the House minority whip suggesting the Florida firebrand may have acted illegally after the Capitol riot. And Scalise isn’t quite offering a full-throated apology.
The private sitdown followed Gaetz’s scathing rebuke of the top two House GOP leaders over leaked audio that showed them criticizing conservatives in their conference. The tape, reported by The New York Times, features Scalise calling Gaetz’s actions after the Jan. 6 insurrection “potentially illegal” — a reference to the latter’s comments hitting Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and other fellow Republicans.
Scalise appears to have offered Gaetz a partial mea culpa rather than complete remorse.
“I said: ‘I'm sorry if this caused you problems,’” the Louisiana Republican told POLITICO in a brief interview, indicating that he spoke on the January 2021 tape out of a potentially hazy understanding of the facts: “I still haven't been able to get all the details of what those accusations were, but I was being told things, and I know members were getting death threats and I was just very sensitive to that.”
The meeting in Scalise’s office came hours after Gaetz first pressed the GOP whip behind closed doors Wednesday morning to either issue a retraction of his criticism or a clarification.
Leaving their meeting, Gaetz declined to comment on the details of their conversation, simply saying: “I want to reflect on it further.”
Scalise noted that he talked with Gaetz about the Times’ tape and said that at the time of the post-insurrection call, “it was presented” to him that the Floridian was putting some members in danger with his public remarks.
“There were a lot of things that we were being told,” Scalise said. “Some turned out to be accurate, some not. In his case, we haven't gotten the details of the things that were all said about him. But, you know, clearly those things didn't happen, because he was never charged with anything related to it.”
When asked if he would apologize once he had all the information that Gaetz didn’t commit a criminal act by attacking Cheney in public following the Capitol siege by then-President Donald Trump supporters, Scalise replied “sure.”
Scalise and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s conversations with fellow House GOP leaders have caused an uproar in Washington — but not significantly imperiled the California Republican’s standing as the undisputed frontrunner for speaker in 2023, should his party win back the chamber as expected.
Perhaps the most enduring fault line opened by the Times’ latest tape-based reporting, then, is Gaetz’s antagonism toward Scalise over the suggestion that the younger conservative may have broken the law by publicly chiding Cheney and others who spoke out against pro-Trump forces. Scalise’s suggestion that one of his colleagues could've been involved in criminal activity — made in private, without all the facts — offers a glimpse into how chaotic the weeks were after the Capitol assault.
And Gaetz himself has faced plenty of blowback from his colleagues over criticism of fellow Republicans; that he, who has few allies in the conference, was able to extract any contrition from his No. 2 leader for criticizing him amounts to a victory of sorts.
While Scalise didn’t address his own past in his recollection of his meeting with Gaetz, he’s long treated physical threats as personal matters; he was shot multiple times by a gunman who opened fire on members practicing on a baseball field in 2017.
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