Matt Gaetz

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Matt Gaetz
Matt Gaetz.png
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 1st district
Assumed office
January 3, 2017
Preceded by Jeff Miller
Member of the Florida House of Representatives
from the 4th district
In office
April 13, 2010 – November 8, 2016
Preceded by Ray Sansom
Succeeded by Mel Ponder
Personal details
Born
Matthew Louis Gaetz II

(1982-05-07) May 7, 1982 (age 37)
Hollywood, Florida, U.S.
Political party Republican
Parents Don Gaetz
Victoria Quertermous
Education Florida State University (BS)
College of William and Mary (JD)
Website House website

Matthew Louis Gaetz II[1] (/ɡts/; born May 7, 1982) is an American lawyer and politician serving as the U.S. representative for Florida's 1st congressional district since 2017. A member of the Republican Party, his district covers a large portion of the western Florida Panhandle, including Pensacola, Navarre, and his home of Fort Walton Beach.

Prior to serving in Congress, Gaetz was a member of the Florida House of Representatives, representing the state's 4th district, which includes most of Okaloosa County, from 2010 to 2016.

Early life and education

Gaetz was born in Hollywood, Florida,[2] to Victoria "Vickey" (Quertermous) and politician Don Gaetz, and grew up near Fort Walton Beach.[3][4] His patrilineal Gaetz ancestors were immigrants from Beilstein, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany to Wisconsin.[5] He graduated from Florida State University in 2003 and from the College of William and Mary in 2007 with a J.D.[6] His father Don represented parts of northwest Florida as a member of the Florida State Senate from 2006 to 2016 and served as Senate president from 2012 to 2014. Gaetz's grandfather, Jerry Gaetz, was the mayor of Rugby, North Dakota, and a candidate for lieutenant governor of North Dakota at the 1964 North Dakota Republican Party state convention, where he died of a heart attack.[7]

Florida House of Representatives

Gaetz with Rick Scott in 2010

In 2010, following the resignation of Republican state representative Ray Sansom due to corruption charges,[8] Gaetz ran in the special election to succeed Sansom in the 4th District, which included southern Santa Rosa County and Okaloosa County. In a crowded Republican primary that included Craig Barker, Kabe Woods, Jerry G. Melvin, and Bill Garvie, Gaetz won with 43% of the vote. In the special general election, Gaetz defeated Democratic nominee Jan Fernald, winning 66% of the vote. He was unopposed for a full term in 2010. In 2012, following the reconfiguration of Florida House of Representatives districts, Gaetz's district no longer contained any of Santa Rosa County. He was reelected, unopposed, in 2012 and 2014.

While serving in the state house, Gaetz joined with state senator Joe Negron to propose legislation "designed to accelerate the execution of many of the 404 inmates on Florida's death row" by requiring the governor to sign a death warrant for those inmates who have exhausted their appeals,[9] noting, "Only God can judge. But we can sure set up the meeting."[10] He also joined forces with state senator Greg Evers to propose legislation that eliminated the federal ethanol content mandate that 10% of gasoline sold in Florida contain ethanol;[11][12] the legislation was signed by Governor Rick Scott in May 2013.[13]

Following the trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin, Will Weatherford, the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, announced that he would order hearings on the "stand-your-ground" law that was raised as an issue during the trial.[14] Gaetz, the chairman of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee, was tasked with reviewing the legislation, and announced before hearings that he would not support changing "one damn comma," though he indicated that he would listen to both sides' testimony during the hearings.[15] Following the conclusion of the hearings, he authored legislation that would allow defendants who successfully used a "stand your ground" defense during their trial "to apply for a 'certificate of eligibility' to expunge information related to 'stand your ground' from their criminal records."[16]

When his subcommittee was considering legislation that would "keep mug shots of people who are charged with crimes off the Internet until they are convicted," Gaetz brought up his 2008 arrest and non-conviction, arguing that his mistakes made him who he is and that publicly available mug shots "could be a problem for those unaccustomed to publicity."[17]

2016 Florida Senate and U.S. House races

In 2013, Gaetz announced that in 2016 he would run for the 1st District state senate seat then held by his father, state senator Don Gaetz, who was due to be term-limited out of the Senate in 2016.[18] On March 21, 2016, Gaetz withdrew from the state race, choosing instead to run for the U.S. House seat representing Florida's 1st congressional district; the incumbent, Jeff Miller, had announced eleven days earlier that he would not seek reelection.[19]

On August 30, 2016, Gaetz won the Republican primary with 35.7% of the vote – defeating Greg Evers (21.5%), Cris Dosev (20.6%), and five other candidates.[20] This virtually assured Gaetz of victory in the general election. The 1st District is the most Republican in Florida, and one of the most Republican in the nation. In the November 8, 2016, general election, Gaetz defeated Democratic candidate Steven Specht with 69 percent of the vote.[21] He is only the seventh person to represent this district since 1933 (the district was numbered as the 3rd before 1963).

U.S. House of Representatives

Tenure

Matt Gaetz speaking at a celebration for the completion of the US 98 interchange

On September 25, 2016, following the death of Miami Marlins' pitcher José Fernández, Gaetz criticized the athletes protesting during the national anthem in a tweet: "To all who will kneel during the anthem today – just remember how José Fernández risked his life just for the chance to stand for it".[22][23]

Gaetz was listed as a member of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership from at least January to June 2017.[24][25][26]

In 2019, Gaetz mentioned to acquaintances that he could run for Senate in Alabama in 2020, a state which borders his district. He later decided against running.[27]

Committee assignments

Political positions

Gun policy

Former NRA president Marion Hammer called Gaetz "one of the most pro-gun members to have ever served in the Florida Legislature."[29] Gaetz is a "lifetime member" of the NRA,[29] and has an A+ rating from the NRA—its highest rating.[30]

When Gaetz served in the Florida House of Representatives, he led an effort to allow Floridians with concealed-weapons permits to carry those weapons openly in public,[31] which was ultimately unsuccessful. In lobbying for the passage of the bill, Gaetz said that the open carry of weapons was a right "granted not by government but by God."[32][33] Gaetz supports Florida's stand-your-ground law and supported legislation that strengthened it against legal challenges.[34] Gaetz also supports concealed carry reciprocity.[34]

Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections

In November 2017 Gaetz introduced a congressional resolution calling for Robert Mueller to recuse himself as special counsel because of what were said to be conflicts of interest.[35] In the resolution Gaetz also asked for a special counsel investigation into the handling of the Hillary Clinton email controversy by the FBI, undue interference by Attorney General Loretta Lynch in the investigation, and the acquisition of Uranium One by the Russian state corporation Rosatom during Mueller's time as FBI director.[36][37] Gaetz stated that he did not trust Mueller to lead the investigation because of Mueller's alleged involvement in approval of the Uranium One deal and Mueller's close relationship with the dismissed FBI director James Comey, a probable person of interest in a proposed new investigation.[38][39]

After Ohio congressman Jim Jordan's denial that he was aware of the sexual abuse of Ohio State University wrestlers during the period when Jordan was a coach there,[40] Gaetz said that the allegations came from people in the "deep state" and were intended to reduce the credibility of Jordan's criticism of Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.[41][42]

Gaetz said of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions that "... over at the Department of Justice, he's got Stockholm Syndrome, he's become sympathetic with his captors over there in the Deep State."[43]

Cannabis

Gaetz supports rescheduling cannabis from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug, enabling further research and expanded use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.[44] In 2015 he sponsored a House bill to expand Florida's Right to Try Act to include medical marijuana.[45][46] The bill as amended was approved by the governor in March 2016.[47] In September 2017, Gaetz keynoted the American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association's annual conference.[48]

Donald Trump

On February 23, 2017, Gaetz, worried about protesters disrupting his speaking at his town hall in Pace, Florida, prepared what his staffers called a "non-verbal town hall." Gaetz printed out part of his speech onto giant boards that he would hold up if he was unable to get a word in."[49] One of the signs prepared for Gaetz had the words "Professional Liberal Protestors".[49] Gaetz arrived 30 minutes late to the town hall meeting, where he faced at least 500 constituents crowded into a bowling alley. At the meeting he was grilled about his relationship with Donald Trump, his stance on repealing the Affordable Care Act, and his proposal to abolish the EPA. He said that Trump should release his tax returns, but stopped short of saying Congress should subpoena them. Gaetz closed his town hall by shouting Trump's 2016 campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again".[50][51][52]

In April 2018, Politico described Gaetz as "one of the most enthusiastic defenders of President Trump on cable news" and a "proud Trump protege".[53] Aaron Blake of The Washington Post referred to him as one of Congress's "most controversial members," and one who has "unabashedly aligned himself with Trump on basically all things."[54]

Economy

Tax reform

Gaetz voted in support of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.[55] He acknowledged that the bill's pass-through tax deduction would benefit President Trump, and added, "but so many Americans benefit when commercial real estate becomes easier and more accessible."[56]

Environment

In 2016, Gaetz acknowledged global warming but said he disagrees with the scientific consensus on climate change that human activity is the primary cause. Gaetz said "In our fervor to protect the environment, we lose sight of economic and scientific reality."[57] In April 2017, the Center for American Progress and Vice Media said Gaetz was a climate change denier, citing his 2016 statements.[58][59]

In January 2017, Gaetz proposed legislation to, in Gaetz's own words, "completely abolish" the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He said, "our small businesses cannot afford to cover the costs associated with compliance, too often leading to closed doors and unemployed Americans. It is time to take back our legislative power from the EPA and abolish it permanently."[12][60]

In November 2017 Gaetz joined the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus.[61][62] He said, "I don't think there's a scientific debate left to be had on if it is happening. I also think history is going to judge very harshly climate change deniers, and I don't want to be one of them." He said that he advocates technological innovation and economic incentives that address climate change, and increased federal funds for global warming research by NASA, NOAA and universities, but that he remains opposed to increased environmental regulation.[63]

Foreign policy

In April 2019, after the House passed the resolution withdrawing American support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, Gaetz was one of nine lawmakers to sign a letter to President Trump requesting a meeting with him and urging him to sign "Senate Joint Resolution 7, which invokes the War Powers Act of 1973 to end unauthorized US military participation in the Saudi-led coalition's armed conflict against Yemen's Houthi forces, initiated in 2015 by the Obama administration." The letter asserted that the "Saudi-led coalition's imposition of an air-land-and-sea blockade as part of its war against Yemen’s Houthis has continued to prevent the unimpeded distribution of these vital commodities, contributing to the suffering and death of vast numbers of civilians throughout the country" and that Trump's approval of the resolution through his signing would give a "powerful signal to the Saudi-led coalition to bring the four-year-old war to a close".[64]

Health care

In October 2017, Gaetz said that the Medicaid expansion permitted by Obamacare fueled the opioid crisis.[65] PolitiFact rated the claim as "mostly false", noting that "experts were universal in saying that the evidence that Medicaid expansion is somehow fueling the opioid crisis doesn't exist."[65]

Immigration

Gaetz opposes sanctuary cities, which opt not to dedicate local law enforcement resources to prosecuting people solely for being undocumented.[66] Upon announcing his run for Congress in 2016, Gaetz said that illegal immigrants were "sucking us dry."[67] In January 2018 Gaetz defended a statement by Trump that Haiti and African nations were "shithole" countries, saying that Haiti was covered by "sheet metal and garbage" and in a "disgusting" condition.[68]

In October 2018, Gaetz falsely claimed that George Soros paid for a caravan of migrants from Central America to the United States.[69]

Gay rights

As a Florida state representative in 2015 Gaetz coauthored an amendment with Democratic representative David Richardson to repeal the state's 38-year old ban on gay adoption.[70] The amendment was adopted and the larger adoption incentive bill (HB7013) passed the Florida House of Representatives on a 68-50 vote.[71] The bill was signed by Governor Rick Scott later that year.[72][73]

Issues and controversies

In its July–August 2017 issue, Foreign Policy reported that Devin Murphy, a Gaetz legislative aide, had written a resolution that Gaetz brought to the House Judiciary Committee using primarily content from /r/The Donald, "a pro-Trump subreddit notorious for both its embrace of conspiracy theories and its gleeful offensiveness." One of the allegations was that James Comey had leaked investigative matters to New York Times reporter Michael S. Schmidt, beginning when Schmidt would have been around 10 years old.[74] In an email to Wired magazine, Gaetz said, "It is the responsibility of our staff to gather as much information as possible when researching a subject and provide that information for consideration. We pride ourselves on seeking as much citizen input as possible."[75] The /r/The_Donald posters' suggestions are represented in "roughly two-thirds of the total finished amendment."[75]

In January 2018, Gaetz invited alt-right Holocaust denier[76] Charles C. "Chuck" Johnson to attend President Donald Trump's State of the Union address. Gaetz said that he had no "pre-existing" relationship with Johnson and only invited him to attend when Johnson showed up at his office, providing him the ticket which Gaetz's father could not use due to his bronchitis. According to Johnson, he was invited by several members of Congress but “took Gaetz’s invitation” because “he’s into stuff on the issues that I care about.”[77] Johnson had previously raised money for the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer.[78] Gaetz said in an interview that Johnson was “not a Holocaust denier, he’s not a white supremacist”.[76]

Drunk driving arrest and speeding tickets

In 2008, Gaetz was arrested under a charge of driving under the influence (DUI) as he was driving back from the Swamp, a nightclub on Okaloosa Island, Florida. Police recorded Gaetz driving 13 mi/h over that area's speed limit. Police noted that Gaetz had shown physical signs of intoxication, initially denied that he had drank alcohol, but later admitted to drinking two beers. Gaetz failed an eye test twice, then declined field sobriety tests. After Gaetz was arrested, he refused to take a breathalyzer test.[79]

Shortly after Gaetz's case was referred to state attorney Steve Meadows, Gaetz's driving license was reinstated. Despite a time period of a year's suspension is mandated by Florida law when a driver refuses a breathalyzer test, Gaetz's suspension was less than a year long. Gaetz's refusal also did not lead to a criminal prosecution, where it could have been used against him. An officer for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles declared there was no evidence that Gaetz refused a breathalyzer test, despite the arresting police officer having documented it in an affidavit and Gaetz's arrest report, and Gaetz's own attorney also documenting it. Gaetz's attorney also claimed a unnamed witness who knew Gaetz "observed no indication of impairment".[79]

Charges against Gaetz were dismissed by Meadows. Gaetz cited the dropped charges as proof that he was innocent.[79]

Between 1999 and 2014, Gaetz received 16 speeding tickets in Florida. The Scripps Florida Investigative Team reviewed Gaetz and 159 other Florida legislators, noting that 46 legislators have more than 10 driving violations.[80]

Apparent threat directed at Michael Cohen

On February 26, 2019 –the night before the scheduled public hearing of Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former personal attorney, before the House Oversight Committee[81][82] – Gaetz directed a tweet toward Cohen[83] that implied without evidence that Cohen had had multiple extra-marital affairs and also suggested his wife might be unfaithful while he was imprisoned due to new information disclosed to her.[54]

Gaetz's tweet was seen by other members of Congress as an attempt to intimidate a witness.[84][54][85][86] Gaetz initially defended his tweet to reporters, saying it was part of "witness testing, not witness tampering" and: "I don't threaten anybody." Asked to clarify, Gaetz said his "tweet speaks for itself".[87][88] After sharp criticism from other members of Congress – and an implicit rebuke by House Speaker Pelosi[89][90] – Gaetz deleted the tweet and posted a tweet in which he apologized.[88][86][91]

Despite not being a member of the House Oversight Committee which Cohen would appear in front of,[88] Gaetz appeared at Cohen's hearing, stating that he wanted to observe and ask questions.[92] During the hearing, Oversight Committee member Stacey Plaskett emphasized her background as a prosecutor and counsel on House ethics and recommended that Gaetz be referred to both the House Ethics Committee and criminal prosecutors over witness intimidation and tampering.[90][93][94][95] After the hearing, Gaetz reportedly texted an apology to Cohen, who reportedly thanked Gaetz for the apology.[96]

The Florida Bar opened an investigation into Gaetz for the tweet.[84][97][98][99]

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  93. ^ "Dem lawmaker at Cohen hearing calls on Matt Gaetz to be 'referred for criminal prosecution' for witness tampering". Raw Story. 27 February 2019.
  94. ^ "Dem Congresswoman Suggests 'Criminal Prosecution' For Matt Gaetz at Cohen Hearing".
  95. ^ "Michael Cohen testifies before Congress: Live updates". www.cnn.com. 27 February 2019.
  96. ^ Rodrigo, Chris. "Gaetz sent apology text to Cohen after House testimony: report". The Hill. Retrieved June 4, 2019.
  97. ^ Shortell, David (February 27, 2019). "Florida Bar investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz for Cohen tweet". CNN. Retrieved February 27, 2019.
  98. ^ Contorno, Steve (February 27, 2019). "Matt Gaetz under investigation by the Florida Bar for Tweet at Michael Cohen". Tampa Bay Timest. Retrieved February 28, 2019.
  99. ^ Little, Jim (May 8, 2019). "Florida Bar investigation into Matt Gaetz's tweet on Michael Cohen moves to next phase". Pensacola News Journal. Archived from the original on June 2, 2019. Retrieved June 2, 2019.

External links

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Jeff Miller
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 1st congressional district

2017–present
Incumbent
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Brian Fitzpatrick
United States Representatives by seniority
309th
Succeeded by
Mike Gallagher
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