Matt Gaetz has taken center stage of American politics in the past 48 hours. The Republican lawmaker from Florida has largely been responsible for the ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) after instigating a vote to remove him as House speaker, plunging Congress into crisis and uncertainty.
Gaetz announced the resolution to oust McCarthy on Monday evening through a process known as a “motion to vacate,” which allows a single House member to force the chamber to consider dismissing the speaker. Before the McCarthy vote, such a motion had never succeeded.
The vote was an unprecedented coup for Gaetz, who has spent most of his years in Congress on the GOP sidelines. Many fellow Republicans are now calling for his expulsion from the party. Here’s what to know about him.
Gaetz, 41, who describes himself as an “outspoken conservative firebrand,” broke into politics by following in the footsteps of his father, Don Gaetz. This week Don, 75, announced his intention to run again for Florida Senate, where he was president from 2012 to 2014.
The younger Gaetz was born in Hollywood, Fla., and graduated from Florida State University in Tallahassee, with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary sciences. He later attended law school in Virginia and worked for some years as an attorney before entering local politics.
He served in the Florida Capitol from 2010 to 2016, and won election in Florida’s 1st Congressional District to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he has served since 2017. NBC News reported that Gaetz is expected to run for Florida governor in 2026, when Ron DeSantis is term limited; Gaetz’s father denied that report this week.
Gaetz is currently a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. He is married to Ginger Gaetz and in 2020 revealed he had one son, Nestor; Gaetz has described raising him as “the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life.”
Gaetz has long been a champion and outspoken ally of former president Donald Trump.
Like the current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, Gaetz enjoys the media spotlight and is a frequent guest on conservative cable news shows.
After the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, Gaetz and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) toured the nation to stage several “America First rallies,” at times perpetuating Trump’s baseless claim that the presidential election was stolen and calling him the “undisputed leader” of the Republican Party.
Trump stayed relatively muted on the effort to oust McCarthy on Tuesday, writing on social media: “Why is it that Republicans are always fighting among themselves, why aren’t they fighting the Radical Left Democrats who are destroying our country?”
Gaetz is part of a handful of small but loud Republican lawmakers to the right of the party who lack the traditional trappings of power, such as committee chairmanships or leadership posts. But they have rocketed to fame with massive social media followings and frequent appearances on news shows, leading to growing fundraising networks.
Gaetz has also had his fair share of political stunts and controversies, including:
In 2020, Gaetz wore a gas mask during a House floor vote on an emergency funding package for the coronavirus response, and was accused of making light of the pandemic.In 2018, Gaetz invited Chuck Johnson, a known Holocaust-denier who travels in alt-right circles, as a guest to the State of the Union address.
Reviewing the coronavirus supplemental appropriation and preparing to go vote. pic.twitter.com/wjJ4YY4VZz
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) March 4, 2020
Gaetz faced a sex-trafficking investigation that began in 2020 with allegations that he paid for sex several years earlier with a girl who was 17. In February, federal prosecutors closed the investigation and decided not to press charges against him. Gaetz has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, saying that he has never paid for sex.Last year, Gaetz mocked abortion rights advocates on social media about their physical appearances. One of them, 19-year-old Olivia Julianna, later said his tweet had spurred harassment — as well as a flood of donations to her reproductive rights advocacy organization. Gaetz has expressed opposition to abortion and voted against bills aimed at ensuring access to abortion.
Gaetz was a thorn in McCarthy’s side during his bid for House speaker in January, leading a band of rebels who refused to vote for the longtime GOP minority leader for the first 13 rounds of roll calls. In the 14th round, Gaetz simply voted “present.”
McCarthy was eventually elected leader after striking deals with hard-liners, which included a critical concession that a single member could bring a motion to vacate the chair — or call for a vote to remove the speaker.
In recent weeks, Gaetz publicly threatened to wield that power and depose McCarthy. Their tensions reached an apex after the former speaker pushed through a deal to extend government funding into November, ahead of a deadline for a shutdown. The move outraged Gaetz, who had opposed the measure and accused McCarthy of working too closely with Democrats.
Gaetz on Tuesday voted alongside seven other Republicans and all Democrats present to eject McCarthy, angering many of his fellow Republicans.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich wrote in a Wednesday op-ed for The Washington Post: “Gaetz obviously hates House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.” Minority Whip Katherine M. Clark (Mass.) branded the incident a “civil war.”
“You all know Matt Gaetz,” McCarthy told reporters after he was ousted. “You know it was personal,” he said.
Gaetz spoke from the Democratic side of the chamber during the vote to oust McCarthy because Republicans did not allow him to speak from their side. Later Tuesday, the GOP considered expelling Gaetz from its caucus after his successful fight to remove McCarthy. “I’d love to have him out of the conference,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told reporters. “He shouldn’t be in the Republican Party.”
Gingrich’s op-ed also called for his expulsion, terming Gaetz “an anti-Republican” who is “actively destructive” and “egocentrically going from TV show to TV show and attacking his own party.”
However, expelling a duly elected member of Congress is a heavy lift. It would require a two-thirds vote in the House, rather than just a majority. Only five House members have ever been expelled by their colleagues.
Gaetz seems to be shrugging off such calls. Asked whether he was afraid of being exiled by his party, he responded: “If they want to expel me, let me know when they have the votes.”
Amber Phillips and Jacob Bogage contributed to this report.