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Some Republican voters in Northwest Florida are 'frustrated' by last week's House Speaker vote

Matt Gaetz, Kevin McCarthy
Alex Brandon/AP
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., talks to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., after Gaetz voted "present" in the House chamber as the House meets for the fourth day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Kevin McCarthy was finally voted in as speaker of the House early Saturday morning, but not without drama. At the forefront, was Florida District 1 Congressman Matt Gaetz.

McCarthy had been vying for the title of Speaker for years. After four days of negotiations with a handful of hard-right conservatives and 15 ballots, he won. In his first speech he said “I hope one thing is clear after this week: I will never give up.”

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Gaetz was an outspoken opponent of McCarthy from the start. He voted for Rep. Jim Jordan, even former President Donald Trump as speaker. At one point McCarthy even walked up to Gaetz to ask him to change his vote. Gaetz said no.

“You only earn the position of Speaker of the House if you can get the votes,” said Gaetz on the House floor on Jan. 6. “Mr. McCarthy doesn't have the votes today. He will not have the votes tomorrow. And he will not have the votes next week, next month, next year."

In a video that soon made its way around social media, you can see Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers angrily confront the Florida Congressman, but was held back.

Gaetz ended up voting “present” on the 15th ballot lowering the total votes McCarthy needed.

Northwest Florida constituents were watching the week unfold from home. For some Republican voters, and Gaetz supporters, it was hard to watch.

Leah Fickling said she was glued to the TV watching the news and the rounds of voting.

Leah Fickling
Jennie McKeon
WUWF Public Media
Leah Fickling

“(Until) the very last one. I was staying up half the night watching it,” she said Monday morning outside The Coffee Cup in Pensacola where she just had breakfast. “I was a little upset with Matt Gaetz. I think he was a little pushy and a little attention getting is what I thought.”

Fickling is a registered Republican and has voted for Gaetz. Although she was frustrated last week, she said it would take “a lot” for her to not vote for him again if he’s the Republican candidate.

“Democrats have done nothing but ruin our country as far as I’m concerned,” she said.

At a Gulf Breeze Waffle House, one local man sat in front of a coffee cup and his Donald Trump for President hat. He’s a diehard Republican.

“I supported Trump 100%. I believe that the 2020 election was not fair. But I don't know about Matt Gaetz,” he said. “I hope he cleans up his act. If he turns around and starts supporting — doing what we voted him in for — then I’ll support him. But right now I'm not real happy with him.”

Jennie McKeon
WUWF Public Media

Sitting next to him, another local, called the congressman’s “present” vote a “very weak move.”

“That means that you're not willing to voice your opinion to the public,” he said. “I put you in office. I voted for him. And to me, I want to know exactly where he stands and why he voted yes or no instead of voting present.”

As a Republican, watching the number of votes enter into the double digits was frustrating, he said.

“A certain point, enough is enough,” he said. “I can see going 4,5,6,7. I can see going maybe eight. But anything above and beyond that — there was no reason for that.”

As for Gaetz’s vote for Trump to be house speaker. That was just a curveball, he said. And even as a Trump supporter, this voter doesn’t want to see him as Speaker.

“No. He has no business being speaker of the House,” he added. “Now, do I feel like maybe he would be a good president again? That's a different story now.”

McCarthy may have won the title of Speaker, but not without concessions. One of which includes changing the rules of the House to allow just one member to bring up a motion to remove him.

Jennie McKeon
WUWF Public Media

With the 118th Congress officially in session, Gaetz has doubled down on his actions.

“To take four days to figure out who is going to be second (sic) in line to the presidency and to ensure we have a House of Representatives that is a fighting force that is going to check the Biden administration absolutely worth it,” he said on Fox News.

The speaker vote is over. And Northwest Florida constituents are still watching.

“I'd be curious to know how it all ends up when the smoke settles two years from now,” said the Gulf Breeze man. “I'd also like to see if they screw it up. They have control of the House. Hopefully, they get something done. And if they don't, it's their own damn fault.”

Efforts to reach Rep. Matt Gaetz for this story were unsuccessful.

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.