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Charting Matt Gaetz's rise through Congress

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Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) first got involved in politics a decade ago. It didn't take him long to find stardom in the Republican Party.

Video Transcript

- Compared to most congressional newcomers, it didn't take long for Florida Congressman, Matt Gaetz, to find stardom in the Republican Party. He first got involved in politics at 28 years old, representing District 4 in the Florida House of Representatives in 2010.

PETER W. STEVENSON: He served three terms, ultimately six years or so, in the Florida House. Uh, and interestingly enough, at the same time, his dad was actually the president of the Florida Senate for two of the years that Gaetz was in the Florida House. So the two of them formed this kind of duo of conservative Republicans from the Florida Panhandle area, uh, that kind of had a big influence on Florida politics for a couple of years there.

- Gaetz was perhaps most known for sponsoring a bill that was designed to accelerate the execution of inmates in Florida as well as a bill that would have allowed Floridians to openly carry guns in public. In 2016, he was elected to represent Florida's 1st Congressional District in Washington D.C.

PETER W. STEVENSON: Once he was elected to the US House of Representatives, his profile nationally took off in a completely different way, that was in large part because of the number of media appearances he made. He's a guy who's gone on TV over and over and over again throughout his political career. He makes a lot of appearances. He holds press conferences, he's quick to speak out on issues, and he was quick to come to the defense of President Trump, especially in his early scandals, and he was a visible defender of the president throughout his four years in office.

MATT GAETZ: "Rolling Stone" Magazine calls me President Trump's most shameless defender in the United States Congress.

PETER W. STEVENSON: Gaetz, like Trump, has always had a flair for the theatrical. If you look back at the beginning of the pandemic, when the House was trying to figure out what to do about the fact that they had hundreds of members gathering in the House Chamber for votes all the time, Gaetz showed up in a gas mask. That was widely seen as mocking transmission of the virus that was at that point starting to kill Americans. But it's part of a long pattern of putting himself in the spotlight that continues to this day.

- Gaetz remained a fierce supporter of Trump in the wake of the 2020 election and supported the president's false election claims.

MATT GAETZ: There has to be an accounting of the ballots cast to the registered voters. Otherwise, we didn't have the first real vote because the first vote was polluted by illegal ballots.

- The 38-year-old lawmaker made headlines again when he was accused of having a sexual relationship with an underage girl. The Justice Department began investigating if Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws by allegedly paying the girl to travel with him across state lines in 2020. Gaetz has denied any wrongdoing and claimed his family is being extorted. He has not been charged with a crime.

MATT GAETZ: What is happening is an extortion of me and my family involving a former Department of Justice official.

PETER W. STEVENSON: Since then, Gaetz has been making more appearances. He's made some strange statements and he seems to be pulling away from the Trump playbook of denying, of obfuscating, and of claiming that this is actually all about an attack on him.

MATT GAETZ: The whole concept of sex charges against me was really just a way to try to bleed my family out of money and probably smear my name because I am a well-known, outspoken conservative, and I guess that's out of style in a lot of parts of the country right now.

PETER W. STEVENSON: In the wake of Biden's election, there were already questions about the political futures of Trump's biggest supporters, both in their ability to continue to get re-elected and in their use of the Trump brand and the Trump kind of mannerism and-- and political strategy, uh, going forward. This is something completely different for Gaetz though. Uh, this is a potential federal investigation that could bring very serious criminal charges. And depending on what that brings, he may not have a choice in whether his political career continues.