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Gaetz set to endorse primary opponent of fellow Florida GOP lawmaker

Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzGaetz, under investigative cloud, questions FBI director House Judiciary releases McGahn testimony on Trump Newsmax says network turned Gaetz down for a job MORE (R-Fla.) will endorse the primary opponent of Rep. Ross SpanoVincent (Ross) Ross SpanoGOP keeps control of Florida House seat held by Rep. Ross Spano 10 bellwether House races to watch on election night The Hill's Morning Report - Jill Biden urges country to embrace her husband 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 CheneyNew Israeli government should be a teaching moment for global leadership Cheney rips Arizona election audit: 'It is an effort to subvert democracy' House Democrats to Schumer: Vote again on Jan. 6 probe MORE's (Wyo.) support of a primary challenger to Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieHouse GOP fights back against mask, metal detector fines Massie, Greene trash mask violation warnings from House sergeant at arms House rejects GOP effort to roll back chamber's mask mandate 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 TrumpBiden prepares to confront Putin Biden aims to bolster troubled Turkey ties in first Erdoğan meeting Senate investigation of insurrection falls short 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 RubioFive years after the Pulse nightclub massacre the fight for LGBTQ+ rights continues Rubio calls on Biden to 'forcefully' confront Iran over movement of war ships Bipartisan lawmakers want Biden to take tougher action on Nicaragua MORE (Fla.); House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyPelosi, leaders seek to squelch Omar controversy with rare joint statement Omar: I wasn't equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries Schumer bemoans number of Republicans who believe Trump will be reinstated: 'A glaring warning' MORE (Calif.); Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseWisconsin state lawmaker compares museum mask policy to Nazi Party Overnight Health Care: Public option plan left out of Biden budget proposal | House Republicans demand congressional probe into COVID-19 origin | Half the total US population have received at least one vaccine dose House Republicans demand congressional probe into COVID-19 origin MORE (La.); House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (Wyo.); National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerHouse Democrats' campaign arm seizes on latest Greene controversy NRCC chairman, Texas lawmakers among top earmark requesters House GOP campaign arm raises .2 million in April MORE (Minn.); and Reps. Michael WaltzMichael WaltzOvernight Defense: Ex-Pentagon chief defends Capitol attack response as GOP downplays violence | Austin, Biden confer with Israeli counterparts amid conflict with Hamas | Lawmakers press Pentagon officials on visas for Afghan partners Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief to press for Manchin's support on Colin Kahl | House Dems seek to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police 140 lawmakers call for Biden administration to take 'comprehensive' approach to Iran MORE (Fla.), Mario Diaz Balart (Fla.), Daniel WebsterDaniel Alan WebsterMellman: A Republican betrayal Bottom line Republican senators and courage MORE (Fla.), Vern BuchananVernon Gale BuchananMORE (Fla.), Greg SteubeWilliam (Greg) Gregory SteubeWray grilled on FBI's handling of Jan. 6 Gaetz, House Republicans introduce bill to defund Postal Service covert operations program Hillicon Valley: Tech companies duke it out at Senate hearing | Seven House Republicans vow to reject donations from Big Tech 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.