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Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., addresses the crowd during a President Donald Trump campaign rally at the Ocala International Airport, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Ocala, Fla. (AP) Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., addresses the crowd during a President Donald Trump campaign rally at the Ocala International Airport, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Ocala, Fla. (AP)

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., addresses the crowd during a President Donald Trump campaign rally at the Ocala International Airport, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Ocala, Fla. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman March 31, 2021

Yes, Matt Gaetz was the only no vote on 2017 human trafficking bill

If Your Time is short

  • The New York Times reported that the Justice Department is investigating whether U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., violated human trafficking laws. Gaetz said the allegations about him are false.

  • Social media posts juxtaposed the Justice Department investigation with Gaetz’s lone no vote in 2017 against a human trafficking bill that created an advisory committee.

  • In explaining his no vote, Gaetz said it’s important to combat human trafficking. But he said he generally opposes legislation that creates new federal entities if existing federal agencies could handle the problem.

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz’s vote against a human trafficking bill back in 2017 is popping up on social media following a New York Times report that federal authorities are investigating whether Gaetz violated human trafficking laws.

The New York Times reported based on unnamed sources that the Justice Department is investigating whether Gaetz, a Florida Republican, had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him. The newspaper reported that the investigation started during the final months of the Trump administration and is part of a broader investigation into a Gaetz ally, Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector in Seminole County who was indicted on charges including sex trafficking. Gaetz has not been charged.

Gaetz said on Twitter and told the New York Times, Axios and Fox News that the allegations are false and are part of an effort to extort $25 million from him and his family. 

A Facebook post used the popular "how it started, how it’s going" meme to juxtapose the Justice Department investigation with Gaetz’s past vote on a bill in Congress.

How it started: "Matt Gaetz defends lone no vote on anti-human trafficking bill."

How it’s going: "The DOJ is reportedly investigating whether Rep. Matt Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and violated sex-trafficking laws," taken from a Business Insider headline.

The Facebook post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

In this case, it’s accurate to say that Gaetz was the only member to vote against such a measure in 2017. The Facebook post could be interpreted to suggest that his 2017 vote led to or is somehow tied to the Justice Department investigation, but that isn’t proven, and it’s not the focus of our fact-check.

Gaetz really was the only vote against an anti-human trafficking bill that Trump signed into law. The reason he offered at the time was not on the bill’s substance, but in favor of limiting government. 

The Combating Human Trafficking in Commercial Vehicles Act passed the Senate by unanimous consent in September 2017. When the House passed the bill in December 2017, Gaetz was the only no vote. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law in January 2018.

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The bill directed the Transportation Department to designate an official to coordinate human trafficking prevention efforts and called for establishing an advisory committee on human trafficking. The committee submitted a 128-page report in July 2019 that included recommendations to combat human trafficking.

Following coverage of his vote in his home newspaper, the Northwest Florida Daily News,  Gaetz went on Facebook live to explain his opposition. Gaetz called the bill "mission creep" and an "expansion of the federal government" beyond what is in the Constitution. 

Gaetz said when a proposed bill creates a new government entity or board, his office scrutinizes the legislation.

"Unless there is an overwhelming, compelling reason that our existing agencies in the federal government can't handle that problem, I vote no because voters in Northwest Florida did not send me to Washington to go and create more federal government," Gaetz said. "If anything, we should be abolishing a lot of the agencies at the federal level like the Department of Education, like the EPA and sending that power back to our state governments."

However, Gaetz said it is important to combat human trafficking — and said when he was in the state Legislaure he worked to make it easier for prosecutors to bring cases against human traffickers. We contacted Gaetz’s congressional office to ask them to point to a bill he appeared to reference but did not receive a reply by our deadline.

Our ruling

A Facebook post said Gaetz was the lone vote in the House against an anti-human trafficking bill.

In 2017, Gaetz was the lone vote against a bill that directed federal officials to take steps to combat human trafficking, including the creation of an advisory committee. Gaetz said that combating human trafficking was important, but he was against creating a new federal entity to do so.

We rate this statement True. 


RELATED: U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., on the Truth-O-Meter

RELATED: Graph showing rising human trafficking arrests under Trump draws on bogus data

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More by Amy Sherman

Yes, Matt Gaetz was the only no vote on 2017 human trafficking bill

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