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GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz made history by engineering House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's ouster

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

This week, Florida Republican Matt Gaetz became one of the best-known members of Congress.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah. He made history and angered many in his own party by engineering the ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Gaetz is a Trump ally and a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus. He also faces a House ethics investigation into allegations that include violating sex trafficking laws, sexual misconduct, illicit drug use and the misuse of campaign funds. His constituents are the people living in Florida's 1st Congressional District, which covers the area around Pensacola.

FADEL: NPR's Greg Allen has been talking to Republican voters in the district and joins us now. Hi, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So as we said, a lot of Republicans in Congress are really angry at Matt Gaetz right now. How are his constituents feeling?

ALLEN: Well, I was at the Republican Club meeting in Florida's Santa Rosa County last night. This is right in the heart of Gaetz's district. It's - this is the area, as you say, in Florida's panhandle that's strongly Republican. Everyone I talked to here said that they love Matt Gaetz because of his actions this week. They like what he did. Here's one Republican voter, Sharon Hawthorne.

SHARON HAWTHORNE: Before this happened, I had mixed feelings. I like some things that he did. I didn't like other things that he did. But I love the fact that he took the stand for us. And I feel like that this is the best thing that could have happened for the Republicans, for Democrats, for America.

ALLEN: You know, this was a conservative crowd in a deep-red district, but that was the near unanimous opinion I heard last night. As one person said to me, they believe if a system has gone awry, then you need to break it.

FADEL: I mean, but Matt Gaetz took these actions against Kevin McCarthy after McCarthy made a deal with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown, which worried a lot of people, the idea of a shutdown. It would impact people in Gaetz's district, home to military bases, veterans, active-duty military. Did that go into constituents' thinking on Gaetz's move?

ALLEN: Yeah. You know, it's not really clear to me. You know, I did speak to Stan Jandura, who's a retired Marine and a Republican activist in Santa Rosa County. He says he doesn't think many there really were concerned about the threat of a government shutdown.

STAN JANDURA: It's a colloquial term, shutdown. It's not real shutdown. Government employees are still going to get their - a check once it opens back up. So who does it hurt? It hurts the political party that is up there.

ALLEN: You know, there is some uncertainty among people I spoke to about how this will play out for the Republican Party in the long term. Some conceded that there could be fallout that hurts Republicans in next year's midterm elections if a new speaker isn't quickly seated and Congress doesn't soon get back to work.

FADEL: You know, as we talked about, Matt Gaetz's Republican colleagues are not happy with him for leading this effort, blowing up the session, then sending out fundraising appeals bragging about it. To his supporters, is this behavior appealing, off-putting? What are they saying?

ALLEN: Right. I don't - people really don't care about this. As one person said to me, what issues don't members of Congress fundraise around? Among the people I spoke to, there's a deep dissatisfaction that Democrats control the Senate and the White House. Many told me they feel that, in their words, they need to take back their country. They hope the next speaker will be one who listens to them and acts on their concerns. Several said they were excited that former President Trump is reportedly planning to visit Congress next week, and they're hoping he might perhaps, maybe be the next Republican House speaker.

FADEL: NPR's Greg Allen in Pensacola, Fla., thank you so much for your reporting.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.