Gaetz set to endorse primary opponent of fellow Florida GOP lawmaker

Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzLara Trump campaigns with far-right activist candidate Laura Loomer in Florida House to vote on removing cannabis from list of controlled substances The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from GOP convention night 1 MORE (R-Fla.) will endorse the primary opponent of Rep. Ross SpanoVincent (Ross) Ross SpanoThe Hill's Morning Report - Jill Biden urges country to embrace her husband Rep. Ross Spano loses Florida GOP primary amid campaign finance scrutiny The Hill's Convention Report: Democrats gear up for Day Two of convention MORE (R), a fellow Florida congressman under investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) over a possible campaign finance violation.

Gaetz's camp is casting the decision to endorse Scott Franklin as a response to House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Cheney asks DOJ to probe environmental groups | Kudlow: 'No sector worse hurt than energy' during pandemic | Trump pledges 'no politics' in Pebble Mine review Cheney asks DOJ to probe environmental groups  Press: The big no-show at the RNC MORE's (Wyo.) support of a primary challenger to Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieGOP lawmaker praises Kyle Rittenhouse's 'restraint' for not emptying magazine during shooting Rep. Dan Meuser tests positive for COVID-19 Liz Cheney wins Wyoming GOP primary in reelection bid MORE (R-Ky.). 

Gaetz and other Republicans criticized Cheney at a House GOP conference meeting two weeks ago over that issue. They also questioned whether Cheney was sufficiently loyal to President TrumpDonald John TrumpBubba Wallace to be driver of Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin NASCAR team Graham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Southwest Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid MORE

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After the meeting, Gaetz publicly called on Cheney to step down from leadership. 

Cheney later pulled the support from Massie's primary opponent after the opponent came under criticism for racist tweets. 

During the heated conference meeting, Gaetz questioned whether leadership would be playing in primaries and asserted that he would be happy to get involved in primary races if that was the case.

Sources close to Gaetz said the DOJ's investigation into Spano’s potential campaign finance violation also sparked his decision to back Franklin, the Lakeland city commissioner.

Spano dismissed Gaetz's endorsement, noting the number of endorsements he's received within the GOP conference. 

"I'm not surprised by Rep. Gaetz's endorsement. He endorsed my primary opponent last time," he said in a statement.
 
He added that he has the support of many other Republicans, including: Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioMurky TikTok deal raises questions about China's role Sunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Florida senators pushing to keep Daylight Savings Time during pandemic MORE (Fla.); House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyMcCarthy's Democratic challenger to launch first TV ad highlighting Air Force service as single mother Trump asked Chamber of Commerce to reconsider Democratic endorsements: report The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - White House moves closer to Pelosi on virus relief bill MORE (Calif.); Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseHouse GOP slated to unveil agenda ahead of election House panel details 'serious' concerns around Florida, Georgia, Texas, Wisconsin elections Scalise hit with ethics complaint over doctored Barkan video MORE (La.); House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (Wyo.); National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerHouse Democrats' campaign arm reserves .6M in ads in competitive districts The Hill's Convention Report: Trump to attack Biden at final night of convention | Speech comes amid hurricane, racial justice protests | Biden accuses Trump of 'rooting' for violence Republicans cast Trump as best choice for women MORE (Minn.); and Reps. Michael WaltzMichael WaltzGaetz set to endorse primary opponent of fellow Florida GOP lawmaker The real virus to the Chinese Communist Party: religious freedom 125 lawmakers urge Trump administration to support National Guard troops amid pandemic MORE (Fla.), Mario Diaz Balart (Fla.), Daniel WebsterDaniel Alan WebsterGaetz set to endorse primary opponent of fellow Florida GOP lawmaker Former cop Demings faces progressive pushback in veepstakes Overnight Energy: Biden campaign says he would revoke Keystone XL permit | EPA emails reveal talks between Trump officials, chemical group before 2017 settlement | Tensions emerge on Natural Resources panel over virtual meetings MORE (Fla.), Vern BuchananVernon Gale BuchananMORE (Fla.), Greg SteubeWilliam (Greg) Gregory SteubeGaetz set to endorse primary opponent of fellow Florida GOP lawmaker Five takeaways as panel grills tech CEOs Democrats raise alarm about new US human rights priorities MORE (Fla.), and Gus Bilirakis (Fla.).
 
In his statement Spano also said he has "stood with President Trump during my first term," and boasted support from the Club For Growth, National Rifle Association, House Conservative Fund, National Right to Life PAC, Florida Right to Life PAC, National Family Research Council PAC, and Gun Owners of America.
 
House GOP leaders rarely get involved in primary battles. Massie had angered lawmakers in both parties and President Trump earlier this year after he threatened to hold up consideration of a coronavirus relief package.
 
Cheney described her initial steps into Massie's primary as an exception, arguing that the Kentucky Republican was a "special case" and the Kentucky Republican's "problem was with the president, not me,” a reference to Trump calling for Massie to be thrown out of the GOP on Twitter. Massie denied his problem was with the president.
 
Spano has received endorsements from the majority of the Florida delegation in addition to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), Cheney and NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer (R-Minn.).
 
The House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into Spano in September for allegedly accepting roughly $180,000 in improper loans from friends and using it for his congressional campaign as if they were personal funds. Under campaign finance law, candidates are not capped on personal funding their campaigns, but contributions from others are limited to $2,700.
 
The DOJ announced it was launching an investigation into the matter in November. Spano has been cooperating with the investigation and has since repaid the loans.
 
“If Ross Spano is the Republican nominee for Florida’s 15th congressional district, it will weaken the President. Specifically, Ross Spano is weakened by an active DOJ investigation against him. He has not shown the ability to gather the political support or resources necessary to win a competitive election in a swing state,” one source close to Gaetz said.
 
Spano was first elected to the GOP-leaning district during 2018 midterm election cycle.
 
The primary is set to take place on Aug. 18.
 
This story was updated at 2:10 p.m.; 7 p.m.