WASHINGTON – Rep. Matt Gaetz is at 35 one of the youngest members of Congress and sits in a very safe district. But the prestige of the job has worn off quick.
“It’s considerably worse than I expected,” says the freshman from Florida.
“After Donald Trump won and we had Republican control of the government there were very high expectations for bold, conservative reform and I believe we’ve fallen short of those expectations,” the panhandle Republican said in an interview.
“It’s very frustrating. In many ways, we are failing to keep the promises we made.”
Gaetz, of Fort Walton Beach, has quickly become one of the most outspoken members of the Florida delegation and is an avid supporter of Trump at a time other members have kept their heads down.
“I’m not a big fan of the way they do business in Congress and I share the president’s frustration with the slow progress. So there’s a kinship,” he said.
It helps, too, that the 1stnd Congressional District went overwhelmingly for Trump in November, about 68 percent of voters favoring him. He’s “about as popular as oxygen in my district,” Gaetz quipped.
Gaetz’s voting record matches that conservative outlook. Earlier this month he voted against a $15 billion hurricane relief package, joining Rep. Ted Yoho of Gainesville as the only two Florida members in opposition.
“The federal government has a significant role to play in disaster relief, and I support that role, but we didn’t have to authorize over 1 trillion in new spending to help hurricane victims,” Gaetz said after the vote. “That was Washington using a crisis to feed its addiction to spending.”
In July, Gaetz, as a member of the Judiciary Committee, pushed an amendment calling for an investigation into Hillary Clinton and James Comey – and it was later discovered his staffer had consulted with a Reddit forum called “The Donald” that is “notorious for playing host to unfounded conspiracy theories and anti-Islam tendencies,” as Wired put it.
Gaetz is unapologetic and says reopening questions about Clinton’s email practices is fair game. “This was a rule of law election on a variety of fronts and just because Hillary Clinton lost doesn’t mean she and her co-conspirators should be forgiven for any possible crimes.”
At the same time, Gaetz has bucked traditional GOP thinking on marijuana, and has sponsored legislation with Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando to reschedule cannabis from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug. He’s working with GOP leaders to liberalize rules on marijuana research.
“There are strong headwinds in the Republican conference when discussing any substantive cannabis reform. That’s a mistake,” Gaetz said. “We need to be the party for unlocking cures, not standing in the way of them. I’m hopeful that may spark a more adult discussion ... .”
Trump continues to fan controversy on Twitter and Gaetz has often echoed him. On Monday, Gaetz retweeted a missive from Trump that simply read “#StandForOurAnthem.”
“I’m the last person that should be criticizing someone for being too candid on Twitter,” Gaetz said. “Just like there are some things I’ve said on Twitter that with the benefit of hindsight I might not have, I’m sure the president feels the same way. But we both err on the side of openness and sincerity.
“Trump voters and Gaetz voters will forgive us for the occasional disagreement in tone or style if they feel there is an authenticity. The media always takes Trump literally but not seriously. Trump’s voters take him seriously but not always literally.”
More from the interview:
Health care: “We can’t quit. This was the most fundamental promise we made to voters. We’ve got to remain determined to get the votes.”
Russia: “Democrats are wildly miscalculating the Russia issue. They are obsessed with it. Regular voters are worried about the reforms that will impact their quality of life. … I don’t sit up at night pondering how many minutes Jared Kushner or Donald Trump Jr. spent with someone from Russia.”