Matt Gaetz: The Florida congressman who became Donald Trump’s most outspoken ally

‘I only regret that I have but one political career to give to my president’

Justin Vallejo
New York
Wednesday 31 March 2021 16:17
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Matt Gaetz puts on makeup in HBO documentary 'The Swamp'
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Florida congressman Matt Gaetz has been one of the most outspoken Republicans on Capitol Hill since entering the House five years ago – and one of Donald Trump’s most fierce allies.

The GOP rising star is reportedly being investigated over an alleged relationship with a 17-year-old girl two years ago, which he says is part of an organised $25m extortion scam plot against him and his family. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Elected to Congress in 2016 after serving in the Florida State Legislature, Mr Gaetz became one of the Republicans’ most headline-grabbing members – even if he wasn't one of their most effective lawmakers, ranking low among his 204 GOP colleagues in a study from the Center for Effective Lawmaking.

Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) during a House Armed Services Subcommittee hearing

Just hours before news of the investigation was broken by the New York Times, Axios reported that congressman was considering an early retirement from the House for a job at conservative network Newsmax – something he poured cold water on.

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The 38-year-old former lawyer – son of prominent Florida politician Don Gaetz – is up for re-election next year 2022 but was said to be considering leaving early to become a media personality on the upstart broadcaster chipping away at the Fox News base.

Quoting three sources with direct knowledge of the talks, Axios reported that the increased profile could be a platform for a future national role in higher office.

On Twitter, Mr Gaetz took a swipe at the reports, repeated in Politico Playbook, that he had effectively been demoted into the minority of the minority party after his direct line to power, Donald Trump, left the White House.

"This article identifies me as a ‘South Florida’ congressman, which I am obviously not. Perhaps that verifiably false reporting will cause people to question the accuracy of other claims made in this piece," he said in response.

While Mr Gaetz was born in Hollywood, South Florida, he represents the 1st District of Florida, covering Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola near the northwestern border with Alabama.

He entered politics via Florida State University and had a career as an attorney before entering the Florida State Legislature in 2010.

Mr Gaetz remained one of Mr Trump's biggest supporters throughout his two impeachment trials, and has continued to challenge his GOP colleagues who turned on the former president.

During Mr Trump’s first impeachment, over the Ukraine scandal, Mr Gaetz led a group of Republicans who gatecrashed a closed hearing claiming their party was being kept out – despite several of his GOP colleagues being inside the room. Ahead of the second impeachment, he offered to resign his seat and personally defend Mr Trump, an offer that was not taken up.

“I only regret that I have but one political career to give to my president,” he told Fox News.

He was criticised for bringing up Hunter Biden’s substance abuse problems after he himself had been stopped in a DUI incident in 2008, something he was never charged over.

In 2014 the Tampa Bay Times quoted him as saying of the incident: “I’m of the view that that is part of who I am. I made bad decisions that resulted in an arrest, and that is sort of something that we all live with.”

Mr Gaetz has famously clashed with Wyoming's representative Liz Cheney, holding a rally in her state in an effort to unseat one of the party's most senior members over her decision to vote to impeach Trump over his incitement of the 6 January insurrection at the Capitol.

That day he was among a handful of Republican congressmen and women who voted to prevent Joe Biden’s victory over Mr Trump being certified.

A spokesperson fo Ms Cheney said that "Gaetz can leave his beauty bag at home. In Wyoming, the men don’t wear makeup,” a likely reference to HBO documentary The Swamp. The two-hour documentary released in 2020 followed Mr Gaetz as he wakes up in his office, puts on make-up, and sets about trying to drain the swamp, saying that lobbyists and special interests have never been less empowered since Mr Trump entered office.

“The way you’re able to elevate your profile in Washington is to drive conflict because conflict is interesting,” Mr Gaetz said in the film.

On the same day that news of the investigation into his sexual activity came to light, it was announced that a man in Wyoming had been charged with threatening to kill Mr Gaetz ahead of his trip there to rally against Ms Cheney.

In March last year, as the coronavirus began to sweep the country on its way to claiming more than half a million American lives, he mocked the idea of wearing masks by donning a gas mask in Congress.

Days later he was forced to self-quarantine after coming into contact with someone who had tested positive at the CPAC conservative conference.

While elevating his profile in Washington, his personal life has also received attention.

He proposed to his girlfriend Ginger Luckey – the sister of Oculus VR founder and Republican donor Palmer Luckey – at Mr Trump's Mar-a-Lago on 30 December, while last summer he announced he had a 19-year-old son who was neither a biological relation nor adopted.

Mr Gaetz told People magazine that the teenager is his ex-girlfriend's brother, Nestor Galban, who was 12 years old when they met years ago and who is from Cuba.

“He is a part of my family story,” he told the magazine. “My work with Nestor, our family, no element of my public service could compare to the joy that our family has brought me.”

Among those coming to his defence amid snide remarks about his family arrangements was an unlikely supporter – the former Democratic congresswoman Katie Hill. The progressive Californian had been forced to quit following the leak of nude pictures and claims of an affair. She said that at the time Mr Gaetz had supported her, despite their political differences, and now she wanted to do the same. Her friend was impressed enough to post the story on his website.

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