Florida congressman Matt Gaetz got a much-needed lesson from internet critics this week after he criticized a provision in the coronavirus stimulus bill passed by the Senate that gave $13 million to Howard University.
The historically Black institution, located in Washington, D.C., is home to a state-of-the-art medical facility and Level 1 trauma center that’s now being used as a COVID-19 treatment facility. Yet Gaetz seems to have missed the memo.
“$13,000,000 in taxpayer funds could be going to families across the nation struggling to put food on the table in the midst of COVID-19,” he wrote in a tweet Wednesday, accompanied by screenshots of the provision detailed in the coronavirus relief measure.
“Instead, it’s going to Howard University,” Gaetz continued. “Education is important- but a $13 million check to Howard does not belong in COVID-19 relief.”
Backlash was swift, with many criticizing the Republican representative for being so oblivious to a major hospital that’s just a few blocks from his Washington office. Others pointed out that the university is federally chartered, so it’s appropriate that it would receive emergency funding.
“How embarrassing is it that @mattgaetz is a U.S. Congressman and doesn’t understand that Howard University is federally chartered, which explains why it has specifically appropriated funds in the bill,” a Twitter user wrote, adding: “HU is a medical school and hospital with class-1 trauma facilities.”
Adam Serwer, a staff writer for The Atlantic, echoed these facts, adding: “Howard University Hospital is federally funded and also one of DC’s designated coronavirus treatment centers. White supremacy is a suicide pact.”
“Howard University is home to a medical school and a hospital, Rep. Gas Mask,” journalist and author Goldie Taylor chimed in, referring to the time the congressman sported a gas mask during a House floor vote on funding for the public health crisis earlier this month.
Gaetz’s ill-informed remarks also drew a rebuke from California Senator and Howard alum Kamala Harris, who pressed the congressman on why he was so perturbed over the funding.
“The [stimulus] bill provides $30 billion to protect students and help schools, colleges and universities combat the coronavirus. This is $13 million,” she wrote.
In a follow-up tweet, she added: “$13 million = .04% of $30 billion. Why do you take issue with money going to Howard, Congressman?”
The discussion raged on well into Wednesday night, with “Howard University” becoming a top trending topic on Twitter.
Gaetz has defended his remarks despite the controversy, arguing he was only playing the “earmark card” and had criticized several other provisions, including union giveaways and funding for migrants and refugees.