The flood-Gaetz of hypocrisy, live from Washington D.C.

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION -

COMMENTARY

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.

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