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Gaetz set to endorse primary opponent of fellow Florida GOP lawmaker

Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzSome Republicans say proxy voting gives advantage to Democrats Wray says no evidence of 'antifa' involvement in Jan. 6 attack Republican rips GOP lawmakers for voting by proxy from CPAC 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 CheneyRomney released from hospital after fall over the weekend MAGALand in Orlando Kinzinger: Trump just wants to 'stand in front of a crowd and be adored' MORE's (Wyo.) support of a primary challenger to Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieCan members of Congress carry firearms on the Capitol complex? Republicans rally to keep Cheney in power House Republicans gear up for conference meeting amid party civil war 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 TrumpSouth Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Ex-Trump aide Pierson won't run for Dallas-area House seat House Oversight panel reissues subpoena for Trump's accounting firm 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 RubioGOP senators question Amazon on removal of book about 'transgender moment' CPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be Watch live: Day 2 at CPAC MORE (Fla.); House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthySome Republicans say proxy voting gives advantage to Democrats Wray says no evidence of 'antifa' involvement in Jan. 6 attack Republican rips GOP lawmakers for voting by proxy from CPAC MORE (Calif.); Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseRepublican rips GOP lawmakers for voting by proxy from CPAC Merrick Garland is right to prioritize domestic terrorism, but he'll need a bigger boat Why Congress must invoke the 14th Amendment now MORE (La.); House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (Wyo.); National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerHouse panel spars over GameStop frenzy, trading apps The Hill's Morning Report - Biden on COVID-19: Next year Americans will be 'better off' NRCC finance chair: Republicans who voted for Trump impeachment will not be penalized MORE (Minn.); and Reps. Michael WaltzMichael WaltzBipartisan lawmakers call for Blinken to appoint special envoy for Venezuela Florida Republicans push Biden to implement Trump order on Venezuela GOP congressman: Army must push FBI, Congress for more specifics on Capitol threats 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 SteubeRepublican rips GOP lawmakers for voting by proxy from CPAC Biden faces deadline pressure on Iran deal READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results 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.