Derrick Van Orden tangles with fellow Republican Matt Gaetz over threats to oust speaker

U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz, left, and Derrick Van Orden
U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz, left, and Derrick Van Orden
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WASHINGTON – As House Speaker Mike Johnson faces threats of an ouster from his right flank, Wisconsin freshman Rep. Derrick Van Orden confronted the GOP leader's critics on the House floor Thursday — calling Florida Republican Matt Gaetz “tubby” in the process.

The confrontation occurred as a group of GOP hardliners — including Gaetz, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert and Tennessee Rep. Tim Burchett — huddled around Johnson to voice their displeasure with his plan to put a $95 billion package of foreign aid bills to support Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan to a vote this weekend.

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie have threatened to force a vote on a motion to vacate the speaker, or remove Johnson from his post, over the move.

Van Orden approached the group on the floor Thursday and dared them to file the motion to oust the speaker, later telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he was attempting to “call their bluff.”

“They’ve been trying to blackmail the Republican conference now for a long time. Just do it. Show the American people who you really are,” Van Orden said in a brief interview about the interaction.

“The American people can’t really see what takes place all the time. What they can see is a motion to vacate — trying to get rid of the speaker,” he said. “And it’ll show their true colors because they are not here to legislate. They are not serious legislators.”

Van Orden called Gaetz “tubby” during the interaction — a jab he said he leveled after Gaetz called him a “squish” as they huddled on the floor. Van Orden said he took the insult to mean he was “a soft person.” Conservatives sometimes use the word to disparage other Republicans as less conservative.

“I said people who have not been to combat and been shot at, who’ve not held one of their friends’ hands as they died, probably shouldn’t be calling other people squishes," Van Orden, a retired Navy SEAL, said. "And then he did it again and I said something along the lines of, ‘Stow it, Tubby.’”

In the interview, he called Gaetz a bully and added: “The only way to stop a person from bullying you is to push back hard.”

Gaetz, for his part, told reporters that the interaction with Van Orden was “puzzling and concerning” and said Van Orden was demanding they file the motion to vacate “in an unhinged way.”

Gaetz, who has not signed onto Greene’s motion to oust Johnson, called the motion to vacate “something that could put the conference in peril” but said he did not want to “surrender that accountability tool, particularly in a time when we are seeing America’s interests subjugated to foreign interests abroad.”

“The only thing I gleaned from it is that Mr. Van Orden is not a particularly intelligent individual,” Gaetz said.

The confrontation is just a snapshot of the conflicts within the House Republican conference as Johnson struggles to wrangle his colleagues around the proposal to ship billions of dollars in aid to U.S. allies.

The Senate earlier this year passed a single package that included supplemental aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, but House Republican leadership has so far refused to act on it as some in the GOP conference vehemently oppose additional support to Ukraine.

Johnson’s proposal, released this week, is largely similar to that Senate package but breaks the supplemental aid into three separate bills for each region. A fourth bill includes legislation that could ban Tik Tok, which is led by Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher.

Some Republicans on the right flank, including Gaetz, oppose the package, pointing out there is no policy included that addresses the U.S.-Mexico border. Johnson, the speaker, this week expressed urgency to get additional support to Ukraine as supporters of the aid warn Ukraine is running out of supplies.

“I think that he views the Ukraine issue very differently than we do,” Gaetz said Thursday. “We’re worried about America’s border. He seems to be more worried about Ukraine’s.”

Van Orden, however, has been consistently critical of some members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus since they successfully ousted former Speaker Kevin McCarthy from the post last October.

He said he approached the group Thursday to support Johnson, saying “everybody needs a swim buddy.”

“Matt Gaetz is working actively along with Bob Good and Chip Roy — they’re working actively to subvert the ability for President Trump to have the ability to govern when he gets elected,” Van Orden told the Journal Sentinel.

“How they’re doing that is they’re destroying our majority,” he said. “So if we don’t have a clean sweep, if we don’t have the majority, then President Trump is going to have an obstructionist House of Representatives run by Democrats. And that’s going to be the Freedom Caucus’ fault.”

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Van Orden, Gaetz tangle over threats to oust House speaker