WASHINGTON – Florida lawmakers are poised to play an outsized role in the U.S. House’s impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.
Thirteen Florida lawmakers – about half of the state’s delegation – sit on the six House committees that are investigating allegations of abuse of power and other misdeeds by the president.
Of those, Democrat Val Demings of Orlando is uniquely situated to be a key player.
The former police officer sits on both the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees – which are taking leading roles in the impeachment process. Only two other lawmakers – Democrat Eric Swalwell of California and Republican John Ratcliffe of Texas – are in the same position.
Demings, a two-term lawmaker who has been pushing for a formal impeachment inquiry since April – is using her perch to amplify the case against the president.
“This is a dark day for America,” she told CNN last week after reviewing the whistleblower report alleging that Trump pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden for political gain.
“Take a moment to think about the gravity of what we’re facing,” she tweeted. “He’s trying to interfere with our next election. He’s breaking the law. He’s threatening our national security. That’s page one of the #WhistleblowerComplaint.”
Two other Florida lawmakers also sit on two of the six committees investigating Trump. Democrat Ted Deutch of South Florida sits on Judiciary and Foreign Affairs. And Republican Greg Steube from Southwest Florida sits on Judiciary as well as Oversight and Reform.
Ten other Floridians hold seats on relevant committees. Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Republican Matt Gaetz are on Judiciary; Debbie Wasserman Schultz is on Oversight and Reform; Republicans Ted Yoho, Brian Mast, and Francis Rooney are on Foreign Affairs; Democrat Al Lawson and Republican Bill Posey are on Financial Services; and Democrat Stephanie Murphy and Republican Vern Buchanan are on Ways and Means.
Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi directed the six committees to proceed under what she called an “umbrella of impeachment inquiry.”
The state’s 13 House Democrats support impeachment, according to The New York Times; 10 of the state’s Republicans oppose it and four GOP lawmakers have not revealed where they stand.
In the impeachment limelight
This is not the first time that the Sunshine State has been in the impeachment limelight.
Two decades ago, two Florida Republicans – then-Reps. Bill McCollum and Charles Canady – became household names when they were selected to help manage the failed impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in the U.S. Senate.
That year, though, Florida Republicans made the case for impeachment, not against it.
As members of the Judiciary Committee, McCollum and Canady joined other Republicans in calling for a full impeachment inquiry into perjury and obstruction of justice charges against Clinton. The committee voted along partisan lines, with all but one Republican voting for all four articles of impeachment and all Democrats voting against all four.
The circumstances of the day were different, of course, but the lines of attack were similar in some ways.
During the Judiciary Committee hearing, McCollum urged his colleagues to recommend impeachment for crimes like lying under oath and perjury. “That is enough for us to impeach and enough for him to be thrown out of office,” he said during the hearing.
Florida Democrat and then-committee member Robert Wexler, meanwhile, compared the investigation to a “politically inspired witch hunt” – a term committee Republicans are now using in defense of Trump.
“He needs a capable defense on the Judiciary Committee to show what a witch hunt this truly is,” Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz – an ally of the president — said earlier this year. “I feel a real sense of obligation to provide that defense.”
Twenty years ago, the vote to impeach Clinton in the full House proceeded largely along partisan lines among Floridians. Most of the state’s 15 Republicans voted to impeach the president on all four counts, and most of the state’s eight Democrats voted against all four.
That was true of Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings, the only member of the current Florida delegation who held office during Clinton’s impeachment. In 1989, Hastings himself was convicted by the U.S. Senate for misdeeds while serving as a federal judge but he was not barred from serving office in the future. He went on to win his House seat four years later.
In the case of Clinton, the House adopted two of the four articles of impeachment, triggering the 1999 Senate trial managed by McColllum, Canady and 11 other impeachment managers.
‘Clinton is not a king’
“William Jefferson Clinton is not a king; he is our president,” McCollum stated in his closing remarks on the Senate floor. “Convict him and remove him.”
The argument did not hold sway, and impeachment supporters failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to remove Clinton from office. Like Florida’s House delegation, Florida’s senators were also divided along party lines. Then-Sen. Connie Mack, a Florida Republican, voted to convict Clinton on both counts, and then-Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, voted not guilty.
McCollum, who served as attorney general of Florida and is now a lawyer, said he was disappointed in the process.
“It was all about the rule of law,” McCollum told The Atlantic last year. “When you have a president who violates the law in court, in a deposition or in front of a grand jury, and you don’t hold him accountable, that undermines the faith people have in the court system.”
In a separate interview, he cited precedents finding that lying under oath, obstructing justice, and other “heinous” acts meet the constitutional standard of high crimes and misdemeanors.
But earlier this year, before the whistleblower report became public, McCollum said impeaching Trump would be unwise. “I think, politically, it’s not smart for them to do. I don’t think the same circumstances … exist today in this situation.”
Nixon, Johnson impeachment proceedings
The process was not partisan among Florida lawmakers when President Nixon was threatened with impeachment in 1974. That year, Florida’s lawmakers were virtually united in opposition to the president, with 14 (10 Democrats and four Republicans) voting to allow an official impeachment inquiry and one (a Democrat) abstaining.
No Floridians served on the House Judiciary Committee at the time, and Nixon resigned before the House could cast a vote on whether to impeach.
Florida played no role in the nation’s only other impeachment — the 1868 attempt to remove President Andrew Johnson from office — because the state had not yet been readmitted to the Union in the wake of the Civil War.
Florida gained representation in Congress in June 1868, one month after the Senate voted to acquit Johnson.