The flood-Gaetz of hypocrisy, live from Washington D.C.
TALLAHASSEE – The people of Florida have sent some memorable leaders to Congress.
Claude Pepper was a farm boy from Alabama by way of Perry, Fla., who faced vicious anti-Communist smears as “Red Pepper” and became an enduring champion of the elderly. Sam Gibbons of Tampa was a World War II hero who so impressed Lyndon Johnson with his political dexterity that LBJ said he could “vote Northern and talk Southern.” They stood for something greater than themselves.
Charlie Bennett of Jacksonville was a stickler for ethics who did not miss a vote in more than 40 years. Dante Fascell of Miami shaped foreign policy for a generation and fought for human rights at a time when America still enjoyed worldwide respect. E. Clay Shaw of Fort Lauderdale was a Republican who believed working with Democrats on welfare reform and environmental protection — a bipartisanship role largely gone in today’s Washington. Then there’s Matt Gaetz. The Republican congressman from the western Panhandle, bordering lower Alabama, is one of President Donald J. Trump’s staunchest defenders. Gaetz sees not one shred of evidence that Trump abused his power for personal gain or obstructed Congress in the Ukraine affair.
His perch on the House Judiciary Committee and his adulation from the fawning hosts at Fox News have set him apart from his colleagues for one thing: getting attention.
When Congress has a bill in markup, Gaetz probably is in makeup.
All this exposure makes Matt Gaetz a household word — and a four-letter word among Democrats. He’s a dominating presence in a hyper-partisan swamp that Pepper, Gibbons and Shaw would not recognize, but he got more attention than he bargained for Thursday.
As part of a strategy to undermine the legitimacy of impeachment, Gaetz and other Republicans kept shifting the focus to former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, whose work for Burisma, a Ukrainian energy firm, is a focus of GOP outrage.
Gaetz, citing a article, decided to bring up Hunter Biden’s past substance abuse problems.
“I don’t want to make light of anybody’s substance abuse issues,” Gaetz said. “But it’s a little hard to believe that Burisma hired Hunter Biden to resolve their international disputes when he could not resolve his own dispute with Hertz rental car over leaving cocaine and a crack pipe in the car.”
Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, jumped in.
“The pot calling the kettle black is not something that we should do,” Johnson said as knowing laughter erupted. “I don’t know what members, if any, have had any problems with substance abuse, been busted in DUI. I don’t know, but if I did, I wouldn’t raise it against anyone on this committee. I don’t think it’s proper.”
Johnson did not mention Gaetz by name. He didn’t have to. From Tallahassee to D.C., the political world knows the contours of the story.
One night in 2008, after leaving an Okaloosa Island nightclub called The Swamp, of all things — you can’t make this stuff up — Gaetz was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. He was not charged, but a police booking photo lives forever and it resurfaced Thursday after the exchange at the hearing.
To the many Gaetz critics in the Twitterverse, his rant was pure hypocrisy: A politician once accused of drunk driving was calling out someone else’s struggle with substance abuse. The hashtag #MattGaetzDUI took flight.
Gaetz, a key Trump ally in Florida who has Ron DeSantis’ ear in the governor’s office, keeps finding the spotlight and, it seems, the more intense the better.
He tweeted earlier this year about the “girlfriends” of Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen, which led to a Florida Bar complaint (later dismissed) and an apology from the congressman. At a February hearing on gun control, he clashed publicly with Manuel Oliver, the father of a Parkland shooting victim. In October, he led a group of GOP congressmen who stormed into a secure, secret room where impeachment depositions were taking place, cell phones blazing in apparent violation of House rules.
Gaetz was back on familiar turf on Fox News late Thursday night. But he said nothing about the DUI dustup. He was too busy attacking his Democratic colleagues.
“This witch hunt is no longer simply troublesome. It has become deeply & excruciatingly tiresome. It’s time to move on,” Gaetz tweeted on Thursday. “The American people hate this and it’s making some of them hate us.”
That very last part might have been the most factual thing he said all day.