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Last month, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz mocked people worried about the COVID-19 pandemic which is currently ravaging his home state by saying he had the “Florida variant, the freedom variant” of COVID-19.
If such an illness existed, it’s unlikely he would have contracted it in the district he represents. According to a new report, he’s been MIA there for months.
Gaetz, who’s currently being investigated for sex trafficking, has been busy barnstorming the country with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and continuing to deny the results of the 2020 election. He also recently launched a new podcast for some reason, and is now doing his own “Florida Man Freedom Tour” in the state.
One place he hasn’t been so much, however, is the district he represents in northwest Florida, according to Northwest Florida Daily News. In fact, Gaetz has reportedly not made an announced public appearance in four of the five counties he represents since March 29, before the New York Times published its bombshell story about the Justice Department’s investigation of Gaetz. (Gaetz did not respond to requests for comment from Northwest Florida Daily News, and didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from VICE News.)
Instead, Gaetz’s and Greene’s tour has taken them elsewhere in Florida and around the country, such as Arizona and California, where Gaetz also attended and spoke at a “Free Britney” protest as part of his campaign against conservatorship laws. The pair are also making an appearance this month at the Iowa State Fair, which has traditionally been a stop for presidential hopefuls due to Iowa’s early spot in the primary calendar. They’ll also hold their own rally in Des Moines on August 19.
Additionally, Gaetz’s own tour has made stops in Largo and Melbourne Beach. Gaetz said the purpose of the tour was to “band together and celebrate being Floridians.”
Gaetz’s PAC, Friends of Matt Gaetz, has also spent more than $70,000 in legal services this cycle, according to FEC reports—including a $25,000 payment in June to the Marc Fernich Law Office in New York. Fernich’s website lists deceased pedophile Jeffrey Epstein and drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, among others, as notable clients.
Gaetz’s political opponents have already seized on his absences. “He's everywhere but here, and I have a real problem with that,” Greg Merk, a Republican who ran a failed primary challenge to Gaetz in 2020 and is running again next year, told the paper. (Merk also told the paper that he doesn’t believe he has much of a chance at winning unless Gaetz is indicted.)
Phil Ehr, Gaetz’s Democratic opponent in 2020, told Northwest Florida Daily News that he has “faith [that] enough Republicans will stand up to him and that he will not be seen on a ballot again.” So far, that has not come to fruition.
One reason Gaetz might not be too enamored with the hard work of keeping up appearances and working on constituent services: he might not be in Congress for much longer. Reuters reported in July that Gaetz, who was first elected to the House in 2016, had reached out to Newsmax about working there, but a spokesperson for the outlet said Newsmax “has had no plans to hire Rep. Gaetz.”
Though Gaetz has pre-filed to run for re-election, he implied earlier this year that his days in Congress are numbered.
“I'm not going to be a lifer in this job,” Gaetz told a crowd in Niceville on March 29, his last appearance to date in Okaloosa County. “I think four years to eight years sounds about right. I may not stay eight years. Six years has a good ring to it. I hope you're not disappointed in me if I don't stay more than a decade.”