The father of a Parkland shooting victim who had a heated exchange with Rep. Matt Gaetz at a gun prevention hearing said Thursday he decided to interrupt the Florida Republican to “let the nation know he’s wrong.”
On Wednesday, during the House’s first hearing in years on gun violence prevention, Manuel Oliver interrupted Gaetz, a vocal Hill ally of President Donald Trump, when the congressman began arguing that illegal immigration, not firearms, poses a greater threat to national security and thus requires a wall along the US-Mexico border.
“My first feeling is that this guy’s in the wrong room. He should be discussing this matter in another place,” Oliver told CNN’s Poppy Harlow Thursday on “New Day.” “Don’t bring the wall as a solution for everything.”
Oliver lost his 17-year-old son Joaquin in the February 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He told CNN that he found Gaetz’s comments “pretty offensive.”
“No. 1, I don’t think you’re qualified for this. No. 2, you’re asking us to waste time. You are wasting time from us really to go ahead and solve the problem,” he said. “If this is how this is going to work, I have to stop this guy. I have to let the nation know he’s wrong.”
Oliver said he has not heard from Gaetz, nor believes he will.
“I can’t wait for this name to be out of my story because the real name that I’m concerned about is Joaquin Oliver,” he said, adding, “I don’t need to hear from (Gaetz).”
The tense moment during Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing between Oliver and Gaetz came after the congressman turned the conversation to illegal immigration.
“I hope we do not forget the pain and anguish and sense of loss felt by those all over the country who have been the victims of violence at the hands of illegal aliens,” Gaetz said during the hearing on HR 8, a bipartisan House bill that would require background checks for all gun sales.
He added, “HR 8 would not have stopped many of the circumstances I raised, but a wall, a barrier on the southern border, may have, and that’s what we’re fighting for.”
The comments prompted outbursts from Oliver and Fred Guttenberg, who lost his 14-year-old daughter Jaime in the Parkland shooting. Both were in the committee room watching the hearing.
Committee chair Jerry Nadler, D-New York, called the hearing to order, before letting Gaetz continue his argument.
“The greatest driver of violence in the circumstances that I indicated was not the firearm,” Gaetz said. “It was the fact that we have an immigration system that allows people to come here violently.”
Oliver again objected vocally to Gaetz’s comments.
The Florida congressman, pointing in the direction of the two men, later asked Nadler if there is a committee process that calls for audience members to be ejected for repeatedly interrupting members. Nadler declined to remove the two men, but warned the hearing’s audience that any further disruptions would not be tolerated.
Gaetz wrapped up his remarks, saying, “If we really cared about safer streets, we would build a wall and secure the border and we would do it posthaste” – prompting an unidentified member of the committee to exclaim on a hot mic, “Oh, Jesus Christ.”
Gaetz told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel he was unaware at the time that Oliver had lost a son, but said he would’ve reacted in the same manner had he known.
“I don’t think anybody, regardless of tragic circumstances, can expect to come to a congressional hearing and take it over with a series of interruptions,” Gaetz told the newspaper.
Nadler told CNN that Gaetz was “beyond terrible in what he was saying.”
“To bring up, in a room full of parents of kids killed, Trump’s border wall, which has nothing to do with this, is frankly insulting,” Nadler told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Wednesday night.
Oliver and Guttenberg both also attended the President’s State of the Union address on Tuesday as guests of Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Florida, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, respectively.
CNN’s Lauren Fox and Liz Turrell contributed to this report.