COVID-19 has killed over 18,000 people in Gaetz's home state of Florida.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) on Thursday appeared as a featured guest at the New York Young Republican Club's annual gala, which was held in person in New Jersey despite restrictions on large gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
New York regulations currently limit indoor gatherings to 50 or fewer people. At least 65 people had indicated on the club's Facebook page that they intended to attend the gala, which had originally been set for a venue in New York City. While last year's gala was held at the Yale Club in New York City, the club kept this year's location secret, and it turned out to be New Jersey.
Gaetz was booked as a replacement for the club's original guest, Sarah Palin, who reportedly declined to come out of concerns over flying during the pandemic.
On Friday, Gaetz retweeted photos from the party, in which attendees were not socially distanced or wearing masks. One of the photos included a taunting message for New York's Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo: "Catch us if you can, Commie aCuomo [sic]." Another tweet told Cuomo, "Come and get me."
The club also posted video of Gaetz mingling with the crowd.
The event was held in a restaurant in Jersey City. The city's mayor, Steve Fulop, described the event as an "egregious violation" of the state's COVID-19 restrictions and ordered the venue closed. According to the party's organizer, there were about 150 people in attendance.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy criticized Gaetz for going to the event.
"It is also beyond the pale that Rep Matt Putz – I mean @RepMattGaetz – would participate in this. What a fool," he tweeted. "Matt – You are not welcome in New Jersey, and frankly I don't ever want you back in this state."
Gaetz, a close ally and prominent supporter of Donald Trump, has frequently derided concerns about the pandemic.
In March, as the House was voting on a virus relief package, Gaetz mocked concerns about COVID-19 and wore a gas mask on the House floor before he voted on the legislation.
When the pandemic led to economic contraction across the country and states began seeking federal relief, Gaetz said New York should "collect bail money" instead of getting assistance from the government.
Echoing Trump's racist language on the pandemic, Gaetz used the phrase "crazy Chinese bat virus" and complained that municipalities have "used Chinese drones and video surveillance to spy on people in their own backyards" as part of efforts to slow the spread.
In November, Gaetz announced that he had tested positive for coronavirus antibodies. The diagnosis came after Gaetz had attended several Trump rallies in Florida to boost his campaign in the presidential election that he ultimately lost to Joe Biden.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.