Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz said he has a Cuban son — although not by blood — after a fiery exchange in Congress over the violence Black people face from police.
The revelation was met with surprise and skepticism from critics of the outspoken Republican since, until the emotional exchange on Wednesday, the unmarried representative was not believed to be a father.
"Are you suggesting that you're certain that none of us have nonwhite children because you reflect on your Black son and say none of us could understand?" Gaetz asked Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana.
"Matt, Matt, stop — I'm not about to get sidetracked about the color of our children," Richmond responded. "It is not about the color of your kids. It is about Black males, Black people in the streets that are getting killed — and if one of them happens to be your kid, I'm concerned about him, too. And clearly I'm more concerned about him than you are."
"You're claiming you have more concern for my family than I do?" Gaetz responded, banging on his desk with an open hand. "Who in the hell do you think you are?"
Gaetz's response was first met with scrutiny and then became a target for memes and jokes at his expense — again, because he was widely believed to have no children.
On Thursday, however, he tweeted a picture of himself and 19-year-old Nestor, whom he described as his son who has been living with him in Florida for six years.
Nestor, he said, immigrated from Cuba, "legally, of course," the Republican member of Congress noted.
"I'm so proud of him and raising him has been the best, most rewarding thing I've done in my life," Gaetz wrote.
BuzzFeed News reached out to Gaetz's office on whether the lawmaker had legally adopted Nestor but did not immediately hear back from a spokesperson.
After sharing the photo, Gaetz continued to face pushback online, including criticism that he was using a person of color in his life to make a political point.
But friends and supporters of Gaetz, as well as political opponents, have since stepped up in his defense, saying he has been a role model and mentor for his son for years. Some said that, although not public, Gaetz's role in his son's life had been known within DC and Florida political circles.
"He has been an outstanding role model & mentor for Nestor and anyone that served with Matt knows this great kid," wrote Jose Felix Diaz, a former Florida state legislator.
He added that Gaetz had met Nestor while dating his sister and "stepped up" after the boy lost his mother.
Gaetz's office didn't immediately respond to questions if that was accurate, but the representative did retweet Diaz's comment.
Former representative Katie Hill, a California Democrat, also defended Gaetz, saying that he "talks about Nestor more than anything, has done so much for his son & is truly a proud dad."
Jeremy Branch, a Democrat and former commissioner of Jackson County in Florida, also defended Gaetz, saying he treated Nestor as a son and "continued to be a father to him."
The representative's sister, Erin Gaetz, went on to post several pictures of the two over the years, including the lawmaker dressed as Santa Claus hugging Nestor and the entire family crowding around the Gaetzes' mother for a kiss.