By Jeremy Morrison, Inweekly
The ‘milkshaking,’ of Rep. Matt Gaetz, (R-FL), as he exited a Pensacola town hall event, became that day’s predominant headline for the Northwest Florida congressman, but the event itself was full of notable exchanges with constituents from across the political spectrum.
Holding court in a packed Brew Ha Ha in East Hill, Gaetz — an enthusiastic conservative bulldog and supporter of President Donald Trump — discussed a number of issues with both supporters and critics, ranging from immigration and the Mueller Report to the local beach-ownership matter and his support for arming teachers as safeguard against school shootings.
Gaetz’s June 1 swing through town is covered in this week’s Inweekly, but as always there’s so much that won’t fit into the story. Enjoy the leftovers …
Immigration is a favorite issue of Rep. Gaetz. Right up there with bashing the Russia investigation. The legislator spoke more than a few times about the issue during Pensacola engagement.
During one exchange, the congressman fielded a question from a man who contended that lawmakers were not doing enough to deal with the immigration issue legislatively. Gaetz asked the man what congress should be doing: “So, give me a suggestion?”
“I think you ought to lock all those people in a room, and keep them in a room until they come out —” the man began.
“Are you talking about the migrants or the congressmen?” Gaetz interrupted, getting a laugh from the room. “The congressmen? Fair question, it’s a fair question.”
Gaetz continued: “Alright, your suggestion to me is a padlock and a large room, but not for the migrants, for the members of congress.”
It was a little awkward, if the padlock-imagery happened to conjure up a recognition that the federal government was very recently roundly criticized for keeping migrant children in fenced cages.
Earlier in the conversation, Gaetz had come down hard on the situation at the border, talking about Mexican drug cartels were slipping in “bad hombres” into the waves of migrants heading toward the U.S. and how he had recently visited the border to get a first hand account.
“They weren’t running, they weren’t hiding, they would surrender and then within four days of their surrender we would send them on a plane to anywhere they wanted in the country and we would do it at your expense, at taxpayer expense,” Gaetz said.
The crowd was beginning to get riled up. Some people booed the situation Gaetz was describing , while others booed the people that were booing.
“The fabric is full!” a man yelled.
As he did several times during the event, the congressman found himself needing to reign things in.
“We are not going to do this,” Gaetz said. “We are not going to yell at each other disrespectfully.”
There would be more immigration talk later, when a man would talk with the congressman about “Mexico is really not a friend of our’s” and how “they’re still mad because we bought Texas and southern California from them” and how “now they’re trying to subvert us by sending out all these people here that are gonna end up voting Democrat” and how when they speak in their given language “you don’t know if they’re talking about you or not.”
“It’s true,” the man said. “In other words, you better learn how to speak Spanish, OK?”
Again the crowd would get worked up — “English is the American language!” one lady yelled, “Oh, boo your ego!” another replied — and again Gaetz would need to wrangle a hot mess he’d just watch unravel.
“Let’s get to the point,” he said, quickly pivoting the man to a question about imposing punitive import tariffs on Mexico as a way of getting the country to a more “cooperative partner” when it comes to immigration.
Fear of a ‘Palace Coup’
One thing several attendees to Rep. Gaetz’s so-called Won’t Back Down Town Hall tour appeared concerned about was an issue that the congressman himself has been sounding the alarm about for quite some time: the chance that the country has been gripped in the midst of palace coup.
“I am concerned for our country,” a man told Gaetz, “I am concerned for our government, the way, uh, — if there could ever be a takeover or a coup in the United States of America, after spending 20 years in the Navy, it really bothers me that this could happen and I ask you — and I know that you’re on to it and I know others are on to it — but I want to continue this investigation into how this all happened.”
The man was referring to the hard-right suspicious that the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and any possible connection with the Trump campaign is an inside, orchestrated and fabricated take-down attempt of a president that elite, shadowy intergovernmental forces couldn’t stomach.
“That is what a coup is. That is what treason looks like and that is what we’re gonna find out with Attorney General Barr, who is going to turn the tables on the people who are trying to destroy our country.”Matt Gaetz
This is notion Gaetz has been hammering this point for a while now and was more than ready to talk about it in Pensacola.
“I came out and said, ‘This is a palace coup that these people are trying to do.” This is their insurance policy against the Trump presidency, this is what Peter Strzok and Lisa Page meant when they said, ‘no, we’ll stop him. we’ll stop him and the smelly Trump voters at the Walmart who we despise because we’re the elites inside of Washington D.C. who really oughta be in control.’ I called it a coup. I called it a coup more than a year ago and frankly I had all Democrats, some Republicans and most of the media pan me for that allegation,” Gaetz said, vowing that congress would be drilling down into the issue. “That is what a coup is. That is what treason looks like and that is what we’re gonna find out with Attorney General Barr, who is going to turn the tables on the people who are trying to destroy our country.”
Read the Redacted
In another exchange related to the Russia investigation, a constituent asked if Gaetz supported releasing the entirety of the Muller Report.
“I think every American should be aware what went on in the Mueller Report,” the man said.
Gaetz questioned the man’s concerns, noting that “92 percent of the report is publicly available.”
“My suggestion is, read the 92 percent that is publicly available, maybe, first.,” he said.
The man, who said he’d yet to read the redacted version of the report, was not satisfied and continued to push for a commitment to release an unredacted version. Gaetz said it would be illegal to release certain details, and gave an example of a “fancy black hat.”
“I’ll give you an example, if in the Mueller Report the unredacted copy says that during surveillance that somebody used their fancy black hat to capture audio and video recording, if we did that and disclosed then probably if someone with a fancy black hat showed up to collect intelligence again our adversaries would know,” Gaetz said.
The Parkland Father Question
Rep. Gaetz created media ripples recently when he attempted to have the father of a slain Parkland, Fla., high school student removed from a congressional hearing regarding gun law reform. During his local town hall, a woman told the legislator that he had “embarrassed” his district.
“So, ma’am, respectfully, I don’t believe I embarrassed our district, I believe I did the right thing and I will do it again.”Gaetz
“I’m curious about whether you would apologize to that father now?” she said. “And how can you support laws that allow teachers to carry guns into classrooms?”
Gaetz began by defending the concept of arming teachers, who in the examples he provided were also “well-trained, well-equipped veterans.”
“I believe that if we can have capable people, who are force multipliers, who can stop the extensive violence that we see in our schools, that’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing” he said.
He continued, “Now, I don’t believe it should be everyone, I believe it’s got to be very closely monitored, but look, we have people that work in our schools that were in the toughest fights in Kandahar and Fallujah, wielding some of the toughest weapons in the world and then we don’t allow them to exercise their rights to protect students in our classrooms when they’re at risk. That makes no sense to me.”
The congressman then explained that he had not known the identity of the Parkland father at the time of the hearing, and that the man was being disruptive, which was, he contended, making a witness Republicans had invited to the hearing — a rape victim who had not been allowed to carry a gun on campus — and so he requested that man be kicked out.
“Oh, and did the liberal media love that, headlines were like ‘War is Declared,’ headlines were ‘Gaetz Tries to Throw Parkland Family Out of Hearing.’” he said to the lady. “So, ma’am, respectfully, I don’t believe I embarrassed our district, I believe I did the right thing and I will do it again.”
Gaetz the Greenie
While Gaetz colored inside the lines on issues like immigration and the Russia investigation — issues he’s become known for drumming up on Fox News — he also demonstrated some distinct departures from the GOP party line during his local stop.
“I’m not going to deny the obvious science of climate change, but I am also not going to sign up for the policies of the left that say the response to climate change is to say the people in Washington D.C. get to control every aspect of all of our lives, that is not the answer, because it won’t work.”Gaetz
The congressman’s views on climate change offered one such example.
“Climate change is real. I wish it wasn’t,” Gaetz told the crowd at Brew Ha Ha. “The consequences of climate change are being felt today by our military. They brief us at the strategic level when they look at Syria. A lot of that conflict emerged when there were substantial droughts and anxiety that led young people into a radicalized circumstances. There are elements of the migrant crises out of the Northern Triangle that have climate impact and climate consequences, so I am not going to be against science.”
“I’m not going to deny the obvious science of climate change, but I am also not going to sign up for the policies of the left that say the response to climate change is to say the people in Washington D.C. get to control every aspect of all of our lives, that is not the answer, because it won’t work.”
Gaetz continued: “If we have a regulatory approach to climate change, then carbon producing jobs will just leave. They’ll just go to emerging economies, and there is no evidence that an emerging economy, or that a second or third world economy is going to put off prosperity in their own county for a generation just because of climate or any environmental concern, really.”
In place of regulation, Gaetz proposed “innovation” — “it’s not regulation, it’s innovation” — suggesting efforts such as creating a more efficient electric grid, but ultimately concluded that his fellow Republican legislators probably aren’t going to be addressing climate change any time soon.
“It’s kinda like, well, how do we all sing our favorite hymn at church if we’re all using different hymnals?”Gaetz
“My sadness is, we’re kinda not there yet, because we’ve got too many people that deny the obvious science of climate change,” Gaetz said. “And I’ve got too many of my fellow Republicans that say, ‘We don’t even want to start talking about what bills, because we don’t agree with your philosophy, we don’t agree with your perception of the facts.”
“It’s kinda like, well, how do we all sing our favorite hymn at church if we’re all using different hymnals?”
Picking a Fight About Picking Fights
Rep. Gaetz made a pretty big deal about his district’s outsized military representation. He said supporting “the bravest patriots that we get the honor to live among in our community” was a top priority.
“We have spent six trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that’s more than enough money to completely rebuild the infrastructure of the United States twice.”Gaetz
That’s pretty standard fare for any politician, especially a Republican from a region with numerous military bases. But Gaetz continued, veering into territory that smelled a little more Libertarian, if not like a downright Democrat.
“One way I know that we can honor our service members and their families and the sacrifice they make is to stop sending the bravest Americans into endless, unfocused wars,” Gaetz said. “We have spent six trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that’s more than enough money to completely rebuild the infrastructure of the United States twice.”
“It’s more than the entire market capitalization of Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Google combined, and yet we are spending money, we’re spending the hard earned treasure of our citizens to rebuild roads and bridges in the Middle East when we should be rebuilding this country right here.”
Gaetz continued with a riff illustrative of his tendency to tread in politically brackish waters, managing to segue from a defense of the president’s America First philosophy into immigration trigger references, before railing against the stereotypically lefty targets of oil companies, monarchies and the military industrial complex:
“Donald Trump is a very different kind of Republican, he’s frankly a very different kind of president, because he does’t believe that the way to make America stronger is always to pick fights and start wars and engage in these conflicts that run for generations.”
“President Trump believes that the best way to make the world a better place is to make sure America is the strongest country in the world an d that means that America first policy starts here at home. It means that we should care more about the U.S. border with Mexico than Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen. It means that we should not spill the blood of the bravest Americans as a result of special interest, either home or abroad.”
I’m done fighting wars so that oil companies can have extra profits, I’m done fighting wars to support rich Persian Gulf monarchies and I’m done fighting wars for the military industrial complex and for the armchair generals that seem to wish we could invade three more countries by lunchtime tomorrow.”
“The fog of war is no fog to us, we see it clearly. “Gaetz
Showing no sign of letting up, and sensing his audience was ready to dip into a deep well for a somber cry, he brought it home with a portrait of American might that can kick ass at the drop of a hat, but really rather not have to:
“The fog of war is no fog to us, we see it clearly. I know all of you have seen the tearful hugs at airports, the painful goodbyes, the bartering with God for the safe return of loved ones, the disruptive parenting, the broken marriages, the extra counselors we need at our schools the drug abuse, veteran suicide, we see all of these things.”
One of the question put to Gaetz involved Social Security, and what was to become with the program after years of federal borrowing.
“We have to make changes to Social Security or it will not be available to my generation and the generation that follows,” Gaetz said. “For people in their 30s, we are going to have to raise the retirement age. Wish we didn’t have to do that, but we are going to have to do that because the money will not be there. Or, it’s going to be a massive tax increase, and I don’t even know that the algorithms and the actuaries on that would even work.”
The congressman also mentioned that Americans who are better-off financially might should consider taking a pass at their social security income: “Now that, I think, stokes a lot of concerns about the inequity of it — ‘Well, now wait a second, because I was productive and paid in, now I’m gonna be uniquely disadvantaged from the system?‘ — but, look, I mean, my parents do very well, they made good investments, they’ve been successful in life, they probably don’t need Social Security the way my 85-year-old grandmother does, who was a single mom and a bar tender her whole life. It’s different for different people.”
“I believe the Democrats will impeach Donald Trump.”Gaetz
When asked about the chances Democrats would pursue impeachment of President Trump, Rep. Gaetz said he thought it was a given.
“I believe the Democrats will impeach Donald Trump,” he said.
The congressman blamed this on the fact that Republicans no longer control the House, but said he planned to fight any efforts to impeach.
“We’re kinda riding shotgun, and the Democrats are driving, but I don’t intend to be quiet in the shotgun sheet,” Gaetz said. “I intend to make the case that our president was falsely accused, and that his reactions to those accusations were totally lawful and legal at all times and that’s what’s best for this country is to unlock the great potential of America, not divide us with impeachment proceedings.”
Adventures in Broward
One person asked Gaetz to recount his time in Broward County, where he went during the days after the 2018 election, on the ground that there was something nefarious afoot in a couple of Florida counties as close races in the state were sweated out.
Gaetz pulled a great war story out of the bag: “Then what I saw, as I was observing, was that late at night we had trucks that were coming in and out of the supervisor of elections office and they could have been moving furniture for all I know, but when I went to look at what was coming out of the backs of those trucks, men with guns backed me down and told me not to take another step closer.”
And then closed with a nice one-liner: “I think they found, like, a box of ballots for Al Gore inside an alligator down there.”