At a town-hall meeting in June, Boca Raton-based Congressman Ted Deutch was ready to talk about impeaching President Donald Trump — but he wasn’t ready to fully back an effort in Congress.
Instead, he offered a PowerPoint presentation with excerpts from special counsel Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report, and took an extensive number of questions from the 200 citizen activists in attendance, WLRN radio reported.
Flash forward to last week, when Deutch declared in a guest op-ed in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that the House Judiciary Committee – he’s a member — has actually begun certain impeachment proceedings, and he’s now on board with the effort.
That doesn’t mean there’s an impeachment vote happening tomorrow, but the judiciary committee is moving forward – though activists believe the pace is too slow.
Deutch has now become the 23rd Democratic lawmaker to support impeachment proceedings following former Mueller’s appearance before Congress, and the 117th Democrat overall to support impeachment – nearly half of the entire Democratic House caucus. One other lawmaker, an independent, also expressed support. No Republicans have.
Still, when it comes to Florida, Deutch is only the third lawmaker out of the 13-member Florida Democratic delegation to support impeachment.
That means ten members of the delegation still haven’t made up their minds, illustrating a schism between grassroots activists and the Democratic establishment in Florida.
Now that lawmakers are back in their districts and can hear from constituents during the August recess, impeachment advocates hope the tide may be changing.
“I don’t know what else it’s going to take to get more of them there,” says Tampa Bay area-based activist Susan Smith. “I think hearing from people… over the break will probably help.”
“I can understand some reluctance to get behind this when you’re in a swing district,” adds Michael Calderin, the current head of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida. “I think in many cases it’s in deference to (House) Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi.”
Pelosi has been outspoken in resisting calls to impeachment – for now anyway – and the polls bear out that the public overall doesn’t support it either.
Polls show less than half of voters support impeachment
A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll taken the day after Mueller’s congressional testimony showed only 37 percent of voters say Congress should begin impeachment proceedings against Trump, with 46 percent opposed.
A Hill-HarrisX survey showed the public split in half at 41 percent each, with 18 percent not sure.
“What we’re seeing now are folks worrying about the political side of it,” says Alan Clendenin, a longtime committeeman with the Democratic National Committee. “But this transcends politics. This is a constitutional responsibility.”
Orlando area Democratic Rep. Val Demings agrees. She became the first Florida lawmaker to support impeachment following the release of The Mueller Report back in April, and doubled down on her support following the special counsel’s appearance before two committees in the House last month.
“Russia attacked our election and President Trump ‘welcomed’ that attack. His campaign designed their strategy and messaging around stolen Russian materials,” Demings said after the hearings.
The drive for more Florida Democratic members of Congress to support impeachment is led by the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida. The group issued a proclamation in April after The Mueller Report was published, saying it wanted Congress to immediately begin an impeachment inquiry into the president.
Sarasota Democratic strategist and progressive caucus member Claire Snyder-Hall then took the proclamation to the next meeting of the Sarasota Democratic Executive Committee.
“I didn’t think it was going to get passed, and when it passed by a margin of 3-1, I was shocked,” she recalled last week.
She then followed up by attending the next scheduled meetings of the local Democratic clubs in Manatee and Charlotte Counties. Both executive committees also voted in support of an impeachment inquiry. All told now, seven Democratic executive committees throughout the state have formally endorsed an impeachment inquiry.
Deutch and others who serve on the House Judiciary Committee say that a 2015 directive by Republican leaders in the House gave committee chairs broad subpoena powers, and thus “in every meaningful way, our investigation is an impeachment inquiry. The Judiciary Committee already has the power to refer articles of impeachment to the whole House.”
Republicans have rejected that position, however, and contend that only a formal vote can launch proceedings.
Other Florida Democrats in Congress are wary
Meanwhile, other Florida House Democrats remain cautious.
Orlando area U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy told a town hall audience last week in Sanford that she feared that impeachment “will assuredly consume us all…and basically grind our nation to a halt. “
A report on the website of fivethirtyeight.com last week showed that there are 29 Democrats nationally who represent districts where Trump lost by at least 39 points in the 2016 presidential election yet those Democrats don’t support impeachment. Two of those are in the South Florida districts represented by Frederica Wilson and Alcee Hastings.
Hastings voted against an impeachment vote last month, and Wilson tweeted last month that “There’s no question Trump is guilty but the current Senate will never find him guilty of anything.”
Activist Susan Smith says she hopes that every Democratic incumbent who doesn’t support impeachment gets challenged at the ballot box next year.
“I think a primary would be in order if the Democrats are willing to do it,’ she says. But she also fears that if Democrats don’t make an effort to impeach Trump, the inaction could depress voter turnout next year “if they don’t do something.”
But not all Democratic activists are on the same page.
Susan McGrath is the executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network (FCAN). She calls Nancy Pelosi the smartest person in Democratic politics, and stands by the House Speaker’s admonition that the issue is too divisive and won’t end well for Democrats.
“This is a watershed moment for us in the Democratic party, and we have the opportunity in the next 18 months to bring real change and right the effects of the Trump administration and Mitch McConnell by taking those Senate seats back, but we cannot afford too many mistakes if we’re going to do that,” McGrath says.
“The stars have to align well, and Democrats do best when we talk about issues voters care about. And while it’s easy for us inside the bubble to get caught up in this, working families and everyday folks care most about issues that affect their families and their pocketbooks.”
Meanwhile, Need to Impeach, the vehicle created by liberal billionaire activist and now Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer, has gathered more than 8 million signatures supporting Trump’s removal.
And the group announced in June that it would target 11 Democrats nationally with digital ads and billboards to get behind impeachment, including Florida U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.
Whether it had any direct effect or not, Mucarsel-Powell did come out for impeachment a few weeks later.
Castor – a close ally to Pelosi – has resisted, but told the Florida Phoenix that she took “the constitutional responsibility for oversight of the Trump administration very seriously” and in an email listed five separate committees in the House of Representatives that are investigating the president or members of his administration.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said on Monday that he sees his committee holding hearings in September and October, with members possibly voting for articles of impeachment after that.
But much of this hinges on the 2020 elections which are drawing near.
Florida Republicans are essentially saying, “bring it on,” believing the effort will blow up in the Democrats faces.
“What’s consistent about Democrats in Florida and the Florida Democratic Party is cycle after cycle, year after year, they find a way to lose elections in a state where they have the majority of voters in,” quips Christian Ziegler, a Sarasota City Commissioner and Vice Chair of the Republican Party of Florida. “Strategy wise, it’s probably the best thing they can do for the Republican Party of Florida in a state where Trump has already won.”