Two of the most powerful women in Congress on Sunday called allegations of sexual misconduct against the Republican representative Matt Gaetz “sickening” and in “clear violation” of House rules – but stopped short of calling for him to resign.
The prominent Trump supporter faces investigations by law enforcement and the House ethics committee.
Multiple reports have linked Gaetz to a political ally indicted for sex trafficking and other crimes. Gaetz is reported to be under investigation for possible sex trafficking of a 17-year-old girl; for allegedly paying for sex; for alleged use of illegal drugs; and for allegedly showing House members nude pictures of women.
It has also been reported that before Donald Trump left power, Gaetz unsuccessfully sought a blanket, pre-emptive pardon.
The congressman denies all claims of wrongdoing and has said he will not resign. Speaking at a pro-Trump event in Florida on Friday, he said: “The truth will prevail.”
But his indicted ally, former Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg, is reported to be close to a deal with prosecutors, a move which would deepen Gaetz’s jeopardy.
On CBS’s Face the Nation the Democratic House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, was asked if it was time for Gaetz to go.
“Well,” she said, “it’s up to the Republicans to take responsibility for that. We in the Congress, in the House, have rule 23, which says that in the conduct of our duties we are not to bring dishonour to the House of Representatives. I think there’s been a clear violation of that.
“But it’s up to the ethics committee to investigate that. And it’s up to the Republican leader, Mr McCarthy, to act upon that behaviour.”
The House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, has said the claims against Gaetz “have serious implications”. But the California congressman must seek to control an unruly caucus in which Gaetz is a leading pro-Trump provocateur. Few Republicans have spoken against Gaetz though few have defended him either.
In January, he travelled to Wyoming to address a rally against Liz Cheney, a senior member of Republican House leadership who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the US Capitol attack. The daughter of former vice-president Dick Cheney also spoke to CBS on Sunday.
Asked if she was “ready to call for his resignation”, she said: “You know, as the mother of daughters, the charges certainly are sickening. And as the speaker noted, there’s an ethics investigation under way. There are also criminal investigations under way. And I’m not going to comment further on that publicly right now.”