FL lawmakers in Congress divided on impeachment; Sen. Rick Scott says it’s “too soon” to draw conclusions

President Trump at 2019 State of the Union, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the background. Photo, Wikimedia Commons.

WASHINGTON — If the U.S. House votes to impeach President Donald Trump, the action in Congress will move to the Senate, with a trial likely taking place between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

A two-thirds majority would be needed to convict Trump and remove him from office — an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled chamber — but how senators would vote is not yet clear.

Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida thinks it’s too soon for lawmakers to be drawing conclusions as the impeachment inquiry against Trump heats up on Capitol Hill. 

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott. Credit: Senator Rick Scott website

Scott told the Florida Phoenix this week that lawmakers should withhold judgment on the matter until more information surfaces from the investigations currently underway in Congress.

 “I think what they ought to be doing is just go through the process,” he said, pointing to the U.S. House probe and an investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

Asked whether it’s appropriate for senators to share their positions on impeachment before the Senate takes up the matter, he said “they ought to get the evidence” first.

The comment may suggest that Scott could be among the senators who haven’t made a decision yet about how they would vote in an impeachment trial in the Senate.

However, most members of the Senate GOP conference have expressed unequivocal support for the president, according to a tally by the Washington Post. Only 15 of the 53 GOP senators — not including Scott — have expressed concern or said they have questions about the process. The Post put Scott in the camp that supports the president unequivocally. 

Meanwhile, Florida lawmakers in the U.S. House, where the impeachment inquiry is underway under Democratic leadership, are generally divided by partisan lines.

The House inquiry alleges that Trump admitted asking the President of Ukraine to take actions “which would benefit him politically,” U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a televised address last month.

“The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office; his betrayal of our national security, and our betrayal of the integrity of our elections,” Pelosi said.

However, Florida Republicans in the U.S. House were supportive of the president this week as they returned to Washington from a two-week congressional recess. 

 “It doesn’t look like … he violated any type of law, and certainly nothing that I feel is impeachable,” Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis told the Florida Phoenix.

Bilirakis said he would oppose a resolution calling for an official impeachment inquiry, if such a vote comes to the floor. And if an impeachment vote were held now, he added, he wouldn’t vote to impeach Trump. The evidence that has surfaced, he said, “doesn’t seem troubling.”

GOP Rep. Gregory Steube — a member of the House Judiciary Committee, one of six committees undertaking an “umbrella” investigation of the president — echoed that sentiment.

A strong defender of the president, he told the Phoenix he doesn’t see “impeachable conduct” in what he has seen of Trump’s phone call with the Ukraine president.

Nor do Steube’s constituents in the central part of the state, whom he saw during several events during the congressional recess. “No one came up to me and asked for the president to be impeached,” he said. “They were actually on the other side of it.”

GOP Reps. Vern Buchanan and Bill Posey said the majority of their constituents also oppose the impeachment inquiry and want them to focus on policy matters instead.

“We’re less than a year away from voting, and they’d really like to see us fight the battle then,” Buchanan said.

Florida Democrats, however, heard the opposite from their constituents over the two-week congressional recess.

“My constituents are overwhelmingly in support of the impeachment inquiry, and many of them are in support of … removing the president,” said Val Demings, a member of two of the six committees investigating the president. Demings, of Orlando, has been pushing for an impeachment inquiry since April.

Rep. Donna Shalala, a freshman Democrat from South Florida, also “got an earful” about the issue from both Republican and Democratic constituents, whom she said support moving forward with the inquiry.

Democratic Reps. Kathy Castor of Tampa and Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg also said their constituents support the inquiry.

In interviews on Capitol Hill, Republicans answered questions about how  Democrats are conducting the inquiry. Two main complaints: the absence to date of a floor vote expressing support for an impeachment inquiry and depositions of key witnesses that are closed to some lawmakers and the public.

But Pelosi and other Democrats defended the process, noting that they are first gathering facts in the absence of a special prosecutor. Shalala said public hearings will follow.

House Democrats expressed conviction moving forward with the proceedings despite what appears to be an unlikely prospect of removal. “We’re separate from the Senate,” Shalala said. “We have to do our constitutional duty.”

Demings agreed — and added that the outcome isn’t necessarily sealed.

 “We have overwhelming evidence, much of it released by the White House, that shows the president and others around him engaged in wrongdoing. I would hope the Senate would do their jobs, take a second look, a serious look, and hold the president, and anyone else who feels they’re above the law, accountable.”

States Newsroom reporter Robin Bravender contributed to this story.

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