What to Know
- NJ Gov. Phil Murphy called Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz "Matt Putz" at a news conference and said he was no longer welcome in the state
- Gaetz was a featured speaker at an event for New York City Young Republicans held in secret in New Jersey the night before
- The restaurant venue that held Thursday's event was ordered closed Friday afternoon by Jersey City's Department of Health
Phil Murphy, New Jersey's ordinarily mild-mannered governor, had strong words Friday for Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and a group of New York City Young Republicans who held a gala event in Jersey City in violation of social distancing rules.
The event was held Thursday night, and photos on social media show a tightly packed crowd -- with no masks -- surrounding Gaetz, who represents part of the Florida Panhandle and who was apparently a guest of honor at the event.
"That guy in the middle, the tall, handsome fella in the gray suit, that is Representative Matt Putz - oh sorry, Matt Gaetz, and based upon his past performances, it is obvious being a knucklehead is not beyond the pale for him," Murphy said at a news conference. "He was actually Sarah Palin's backup act for this event."
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Calling the outspoken Republican a "fool," Murphy then addressed him directly.
"I hope you're watching Matt -- you are not welcome in New Jersey, and frankly I don't ever want you back in this state," the governor said.
And lest anyone think it was a Freudian slip, Murphy then tweeted the insult again, just to be safe -- along with a now-infamous photo of Gaetz donning a gas mask before going on the House floor to discuss COVID-19.
Jersey City officials had already said they were investigating the event and could take legal action against the organizers.
"In Jersey City we take Covid enforcement very seriously, and this event appears to be an egregious violation of the governor’s executive orders, including capacity limitations and mandatory mask wearing," Mayor Steven Fulop said in a statement.
Maritime Parc, the location of Thursday's gala event, was ordered closed Friday afternoon by Jersey City's Department of Health and Human Services. Fulop tweeted a photo of the health department's notice ordering the venue submit a written operational plan of how the restaurant intends "to comply with Governor Phil Murphy's Executive orders."
Chris Siversen, a partner of Maritime Parc, said they followed the executive order by limiting the event to 150 people, and said it was not acceptable for the guests to take a photo without masks on, saying "thank God it was at the end of the night so we can get them out the door". He said the small business is now getting caught in the political crossfire, and he's gotten death threats.
Besides the mayor, Jersey City's chief prosecutor also took to Twitter to weigh in on a taunting photo of Gaetz with an event attendee.
Gaetz' staff was not immediately available to comment on Gov. Murphy's public rebuke but the congressman did fire off a couple of tweets shortly after the governor's news conference.
"You’re gonna regret this tweet when you move to Florida like the rest of New Jersey," Gaetz tweeted in direct response to Murphy's name-calling. He also thanked Murphy for "calling me handsome."
The congressman was back in Washington Friday -- ironically, to cast a vote in favor of one of the few things where he and Murphy have common ground, the legalization of marijuana.
New York Young Republicans Club President Gavin Wax scoffed at the criticism online, saying the group had done nothing wrong.
“We embrace life and living while you all cower in your pods worried about a disease with a 99%+ survivability rate,” he said in one tweet, referring to a pandemic that has killed more than 24,000 people in New York City alone.
“The left wants you to live in a world where socializing and being with friends and loved ones is a crime and a sin,” he wrote. “They claim isolation is a virtue. Its sick.”
The gala organizer, New York Young Republicans President Vish Burra, said that they "did everything by the book" and that the 150-person capacity was consistent with state rules because the event was protected political speech. When asked why attendees were photographed not wearing masks, Burra and another guest said they didn't believe masks were effective, and added that masks aren't required when there is food and drink.
"If you want to be a leader, you've got to show your face and you can't see your face if there is a mask on it when you are taking a picture," Burra said.
"They are trying to create social media outrage because they don't like that it happened in the first place. They can think it is irresponsible, but again, look at your own order because we followed all the guidelines in there," said fellow attendee Ashley St. Clair.
Murphy criticized the New York Young Republicans for holding the gala in New Jersey, saying at a news briefing Friday that they “snuck” into Jersey City because they couldn’t find a venue that would take them in New York City.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo supported Murphy's decision to callout the group's decision to hold the event at his own daily briefing.
"Why they chose to go to New Jersey to violate the rules as opposed to violating the rules in New York, I don't know," he said.
"I want to see young Republicans grow into old Republicans. This is about preventing deaths," Cuomo added.