Matthew Louis Gaetz II (/ɡeɪts/; 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, Destin, Navarre and his hometown 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, education, and early career
Gaetz was born in Hollywood, Florida, to Victoria "Vickey" (Quertermous) and politician Don Gaetz, and grew up near Fort Walton Beach. He graduated from Florida State University in 2003 with a B.S. in interdisciplinary sciences and from the College of William and Mary in 2007 with a J.D.
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.
After graduating from law school, Gaetz went to work for a law firm in Fort Walton Beach.
Florida House of Representatives
In March 2010, following the resignation of Republican state representative Ray Sansom on corruption charges in February 2010, 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. During his campaign, Gaetz received almost $480,000 in contributions, about five times more than anyone else in the primary had raised, and almost 50 times more than Fernald, including $100,000 of his own money.
Gaetz 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, noting, "Only God can judge. But we can sure set up the meeting." 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; the legislation was signed by Governor Rick Scott in May 2013.
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. 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. 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."
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."
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. 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.
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. 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. He is only the seventh person to represent this district since 1933 (the district was numbered as the 3rd before 1963).
Though a financial disclosure form filed by Gaetz in 2016 showed a net worth of $388,000, he donated $200,000 of his own money to his congressional campaign. In addition, he resigned from two Florida House political action committees that he had started and chaired; the PACs closed down and transferred $380,000 to a federal super-PAC, North Florida Neighbors, whose purpose was to support Gaetz in his congressional race.
U.S. House of Representatives
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."
Gaetz was listed as a member of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership from at least January to June 2017.
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.
Following the 2020 State of the Union Address, Gaetz filed an ethics complaint against Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stating she had committed a "flagrant violation of decorum" and perhaps broke the law when she ripped up her copy of the speech.
In February 2020, Gaetz announced that he will no longer accept campaign contributions from federal political action committees.
- Committee on Armed Services
- Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
- Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces
- Committee on the Budget
- Committee on the Judiciary
- Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet
- Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law
- Republican Study Committee
Gaetz has introduced legislation to reclassify cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug. He has also introduced legislation to loosen federal restrictions on the cultivation of cannabis for research purposes. Regarding the medical benefits of cannabis, Gaetz has criticized the federal government as having "lied to the American people for a generation". As a member of the Florida House, Gaetz sponsored a bill (that was eventually signed into law) to expand the state's Right to Try Act to include the medical use of cannabis. In September 2017, Gaetz keynoted the American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association's annual conference.
In November 2019, Gaetz was one of only two Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee to vote for the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which among other reforms would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. He was also the only Republican cosponsor of the bill (of 55 cosponsors) at the time of its passage. Gaetz has introduced the STATES Act to prevent federal interference in states that have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational purposes. Gaetz says he has had multiple conversations with President Trump regarding cannabis policy.
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." One of the signs prepared for Gaetz had the words "Professional Liberal Protestors". 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 (colloquially known as Obamacare), and his proposal to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (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".
In April 2018, Politico described Gaetz as "one of the most enthusiastic defenders of President Trump on cable news" and a "proud Trump protege". 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."
Appearing on The View shortly before Trump associate Roger Stone was sentenced, Gaetz said he would support a pardon for Stone. Co-host Meghan McCain responded. "Oh, come on, congressman! Come on. Come on. He's the swampiest swamp creature."
Gaetz is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, but not of the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs or Oversight and Reform Committees, therefore he was not allowed to join lawmaker's closed door deposition of former White House Russia aide Fiona Hill in October, 2019. His response to reporters was that since his committee oversees impeachment, he should have been allowed to be part of depositions related to the ongoing Trump impeachment inquiry.
Gaetz voted in support of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. 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."
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." In April 2017, the Center for American Progress and Vice Media said Gaetz was a climate change denier, citing his 2016 statements.
In January 2017, Gaetz proposed legislation to, in his 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."
In November 2017 Gaetz joined the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. 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.
In December 2017, Gaetz supported President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Gaetz said that "Our nation's embassy is currently in Tel Aviv, which is disrespectful, dismissive, and wrong. Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem will send the Palestinian Authority a message that their days of denying Israel's existence are over, and that they must become an honest partner in peace."
Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen
In April 2019, after the House passed a resolution withdrawing American support for the Saudi Arabian-led intervention 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" Houthi forces in Yemen, "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".
As a Florida state representative in 2015, Gaetz sponsored an amendment with Democratic representative David Richardson to repeal Florida's ban on adoptions by same-sex couples. He also persuaded his father, in the Florida State Senate, to support the repeal.
Former National Rifle Association (NRA) president Marion Hammer called Gaetz "one of the most pro-gun members to have ever served in the Florida Legislature." Gaetz is a "lifetime member" of the NRA, and has an A+ rating from the NRA—its highest rating.
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, 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." Gaetz supports Florida's stand-your-ground law and supported legislation that strengthened it against legal challenges. Gaetz also supports concealed carry reciprocity.
In October 2017, Gaetz said that the Medicaid expansion permitted by Obamacare fueled the opioid crisis. 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."
Gaetz opposes sanctuary cities, which opt not to dedicate local law enforcement resources to prosecuting people solely for being undocumented. Upon announcing his run for Congress in 2016, Gaetz said that illegal immigrants were "sucking us dry." 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.
In October 2018, Gaetz falsely claimed that George Soros paid for a caravan of migrants from Central America to the United States.
Robert Mueller's investigation
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. In the resolution Gaetz also asked for a special counsel investigation into the handling of the Hillary Clinton email controversy by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), undue interference by US 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. 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 alleged close relationship with the dismissed FBI director James Comey, a probable person of interest in a proposed new investigation.
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, 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 the Trump campaign and Russia.
Gaetz said of then-US 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."
During Robert Mueller's testimony to two congressional committees on July 24, 2019, Matt Gaetz told Mueller: "...if Russians were lying to Steele to undermine our confidence in our newly elected president, that would be precisely in your purview because you stated in your opening that the organizing principle was to fully and thoroughly investigate Russian interference. But you weren't interested in whether the Russians interfered through Steele—and if Steele was lying, then you should have charged him with lying like you charged a variety of other people."
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 mph over that area's speed limit. Police noted that Gaetz had shown physical signs of intoxication, initially denied that he had drunk 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.
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 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 an unnamed witness who knew Gaetz "observed no indication of impairment".
Charges against Gaetz were dismissed by Meadows. Gaetz has cited the dropped charges as proof that he was innocent.
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.
Crowdsourcing a resolution with a far-right conspiracy forum
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, and that the resolution primarily used content from /r/The_Donald, "a pro-Trump subreddit notorious for both its embrace of conspiracy theories and its gleeful offensiveness." The /r/The_Donald posters' suggestions are represented in "roughly two-thirds of the total finished amendment." 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. 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."
Relationship with Chuck Johnson
In January 2018, Gaetz invited alt-right Holocaust denier 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." Johnson had previously raised money for the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. Gaetz said in an interview that Johnson was "not a Holocaust denier, he's not a white supremacist".
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, Gaetz directed a tweet to Cohen 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.
Gaetz's tweet was seen by other members of Congress as an attempt to intimidate a witness. 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". After sharp criticism from other members of Congress – and an implicit rebuke by House Speaker Pelosi – Gaetz deleted the tweet and posted a tweet in which he apologized.
Despite not being a member of the House Oversight Committee which Cohen would appear in front of, Gaetz appeared at Cohen's hearing, stating that he wanted to observe and ask questions. 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. After the hearing, Gaetz reportedly texted an apology to Cohen, who reportedly thanked Gaetz for the apology.
The Florida Bar opened an investigation into Gaetz for the tweet, as did the House Ethics Committee. In August 2019, the Bar announced it had found "no probable cause" that Gaetz had violated its rules.
Security breach of House of Representatives SCIF
In October 2019, Gaetz organized a "storming" of a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility on Capitol Hill by about two dozen Republican congressmen, including House minority whip Steve Scalise, in an effort to sit in on and hear the deposition of a Pentagon official during the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump. The congressmen's cell phones and other devices put the secure facility, and the security of the United States, at risk. One committee member said, "It was the closest thing I've seen around here to mass civil unrest as a member of Congress." The conservatives barged into the hearing room with prohibited electronics devices. House Homeland Security Committee chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi wrote to the House sergeant-at-arms about Gaetz and others, requesting that he take action regarding their "unprecedented breach of security". South Carolina Republican senator Lindsey Graham admonished his House colleagues for their tactic, calling them "nuts" for having made a "run on the SCIF." Ohio Republican representative Jim Jordan said, "The members have just had it, and they want to be able to see and represent their constituents and find out what's going on." A day later, Jordan appeared on Fox News to justify the intrusion, saying in reference to the chair of the committee: "Adam Schiff is doing this unfair, partisan process in secret and our members finally said, 'Enough'." "We're so frustrated. They reached a boiling point and these guys marched in and said we want to know what's going on." In the 116th Congress, the chair, Schiff, and 12 Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee were appointed by the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who is a committee member ex officio. The House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, also an ex officio member, appointed the ranking member, Devin Nunes, and eight other Republicans to the committee. Each side gets equal time to question witnesses appearing before the committee. The disruption delayed Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper's testimony by many hours.
Gaetz grew up in a house that was used in The Truman Show, a film about a man who is always on television. As of 2018, his parents still live in that house, in Seaside, Florida. A sign on their white picket fence says "THE TRUMAN HOUSE".
Gaetz's younger sister Erin was director of digital content for Jeb Bush's 2016 presidential campaign.
As of October 2018, Gaetz is unmarried.