One soon-to-be Florida retiree earned a notorious space in history books Wednesday. As the House voted to impeach President Donald Trump, the Mar-a-Lago resident became the first President to see articles of impeachment passed against him twice.
That stain on his record adds to a growing list of dubious distinctions — the first Republican President impeached, the first charged with inciting an insurrection, the first Florida resident to be impeached as President. Indeed, half the times in U.S. history the House voted to impeach a President, it was Trump. The House impeached President Bill Clinton in 1998 and President Andrew Johnson in 1858, each just one time though both faced more articles than Trump accrued through two rounds.
Soon, he will also be the first President to face an impeachment trial after he leaves office, and he may yet become the first convicted by the Senate.
The Delegation’s participation in the impeachment proceedings proved less extraordinary. If anything, Sunshine State lawmakers’ low involvement may be the most notable bit of news as far as Florida history. On Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced nine House managers for the coming impeachment trial, none from the great state of Florida. That contrasts to Trump’s first impeachment when Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat, served on the team prosecuting Trump on the Senate floor. Years prior, then-Rep. Bill McCollum, an Orlando Republican, served as one of the managers making the case against Clinton in a 1999 trial. Not since Johnson’s 19th-century impeachment trial, which had no managers, Abraham Lincoln’s successor hailed from the Confederate States, has the Florida Delegation remained sidelined for a Senate trial.
The impeachment drew 10 Republican votes, the most members ever to cast votes to impeach a President from their own party, though no member of Florida’s Delegation broke party lines. All 11 Democrats from Florida — along with all Democrats in the House — voted in favor of the action. Meanwhile, 15 Florida Republicans voted no, with Rep. Dan Webster, a Clermont Republican, missing the vote but making clear he opposed impeachment.
Taking to the floor
Six members of Florida’s Delegation did give speeches on the floor of the House. Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz, Bill Posey, Brian Mast and Greg Steube spoke against impeachment, while Democratic Reps. Kathy Castor and Debbie Wasserman Schultz argued in favor. Between them, the half dozen Representatives encapsulated the critical points of debate.
Castor summed up what happened on Jan. 6 after Trump egged on an angry crowd in front of the White House and told them to march on the Capitol. “Violence during the transfer of power. Confederate flags. Anti-Semitic paraphernalia desecrated this Capitol. So, accountability must come swiftly. We must act with the same resoluteness we showed in the early morning hours after this insurrection, where we assured the will of the voters was effectuated,” she said. “Donald Trump’s defilement of this Capitol will not stand! It demands impeachment now.”
Gaetz insisted the President not only did nothing wrong but was right in his debunked claims that the presidential election was stolen. “Here we have the 2020 presidential election, where the President correctly pointed out unconstitutional behavior, voting irregularities, concerns over tabulations, dead people voting, and now impeachment again,” Gaetz said.
Posey contended liberals and Democrats targeted Trump from the beginning and found no grounds for impeachment. “While his sins may be different than yours or mine, they clearly are not treasonous,” Posey said.
Mast wondered if people sacked the Capitol on Trump’s command, why were none of them called to Congress to testify. “Thousands of people broke the law by taking siege of our Capitol here with us inside. Has any one of those persons who brought violence on our Capitol been brought here to say whether they did that because of our President?” he inquired, knowing rules precluded members from answering.
Steube insisted what Trump said did not meet the legal qualification of incitement of violence. “The legal elements of incitement are based on the Supreme Court case of Brandenburg v. Ohio,” Steube said, referring to the 1969 case involving an Ohio Ku Klux Klan leader charged with inciting violence. “Brandenburg called for violence against Americans. And the Supreme Court said … that was protected speech. And he was calling for violence! That’s the current law of the land.”
Wasserman Schultz charged the riots served as Trump’s last-ditch attempt to overthrow the election. “This criminal incitement left us with five dead, including a police officer, a desecrated Capitol, and a second constitutional crisis. His acts showed contempt for the rule of law, the Constitution, and the foundation of our democracy, a peaceful transition of power,” Wasserman Schultz said.
Both Florida’s Senators, Republicans Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, have already made clear their distaste for impeachment articles against Trump so close to the end of his term, so there likely won’t be any aisle-crossing by Floridians in the coming trial. That said, Rubio made clear in a recent Telemundo 51 interview he believes Trump bears a level of responsibility for the Capitol riots, events that rattled the Senator deeply.
“This could have been a huge tragedy,” he said in Spanish. “There were armed people; there were people entering with the intention to kidnap, prosecute, and execute U.S. politicians, even the Vice President.”
Whether the President demonstrated poor judgment or committed high crimes, though, remains an open question, he said.
“He knew as President, or should have known, that there were concerns of violence,” Rubio said, “and that when there are hundreds of thousands of people, and you ask them to go to the Capitol and be strong and fight hard, even if you don’t tell them to do it violently, there is that opportunity and that possibility.”
Whether that equals culpability for other individuals’ actions still needs to be proven in the Senate trial, Rubio said. That won’t happen until after Trump leaves office, itself an unprecedented action. Like his logic in voting against removal at last year’s trial, Rubio fears the process of impeachment will divide a country already deep in tribalism mode after a contentious election.
One concern ahead for Florida’s senior Senator, he fears Trump will play the victim and remain a symbol for a movement even out of power. “I believe that this debate is going to turn him into a martyr,” he said. “He is doing it now.”
Fundraising woes for Scott
Through his political career, Naples Republican Scott always turned to his own deep pockets to finance his political ambition, whether running for Governor or Senator. But as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he can’t finance entire campaigns by himself for others in hot races across the nation. And in the wake of the Capitol riots, there’s sudden concern he can’t rally outside dollars after being one of seven votes objecting to certification of Pennsylvania’s slate of electors.
Ahead of the riots, Scott signaled he planned to vote against Pennsylvania and consider objecting in other states. After the riots, he would not join in any other challenge but still cast a vote trying to nullify the Keystone State results. This week, he told Fox News Radio that he remains comfortable with his choice regarding Pennsylvania to hold election officials responsible for not following their own procedures by tossing the state’s entire slate of electors. “In Pennsylvania, they did not follow their laws,” he said. “That’s wrong, and I am very comfortable with what I did.”
But the move led to a barrage of criticism, especially when most Senators who planned to object to electors backed off completely following the sacking of the Capitol. Now he’s facing calls for his resignation as NRSC chair.
The volume cranked up as major corporations announced they would withhold all donations to lawmakers who backed objections to Biden’s victory. Companies engaged in that boycott include Marriott, whose executives recently announced moving their headquarters to Florida, and the Walt Disney Company Co., which operates its largest resort property in Florida. If Scott suffers an inability to woo even those corporate donors with close ties to Florida, it will challenge the Senator’s ability to raise money at a critical time early in the 2022 cycle, when the NRSC still needs to recruit solid candidates in many states.
Opponents of Scott this week started howling. The Democratic Super PAC American Bridge said the Florida Senator should resign his position. “Every Republican Senator who accepts help from the NRSC has blood on their hands as long as Rick Scott is chair,” said Bradley Beychok, president of the Democratic American Bridge 21st Century. The Lincoln Project, the notoriously anti-Trump Republican group, released a video tying Scott to rioters, proclaiming: “This is your coup.”
When Scott haters weren’t fuming, they basked in his pain. “Prediction, by February, Sen. Rick Scott won’t be NRSC Chair,” predicted Democratic election attorney Marc Elias, who represented Sen. Bill Nelson when Scott narrowly defeated him in 2018.
It’s put the Senator in a previously unknown posture, distancing himself from Trump. In the same Fox News Radio interview where he defended his own vote, the Senator referred to Biden as the President-elect and uttered the words “Donald Trump lost.” “[Trump] believes he won the election. He didn’t. He didn’t win the election,” Scott said. Coming FEC reports will reveal if that’s enough.
In other tales of hand-wringing over fundraising, Gaetz expressed concerns to right-leaning outlets whether the de-platforming of right-wing voices on Twitter could be just the beginning of stifling conservatism. The Panhandle Republican suggested Big Tech came for Trump’s Twitter handle today, but lunge for conservative pocketbooks tomorrow.
“The next phase will be the demonetization of conservatives, where they try to make it very difficult to use, transfer or spend money, or to pool our money to advance our conservative beliefs,” he told Newsmax.
It’s a concern that could stir anxiety in Washington at a moment when the end of Trump’s administration has many corporations placing their bets on where best to exert influence as Democrats take control of the White House, House and Senate.
Notably, Gaetz remains the only Republican in the House to swear off PAC donations. Still, he has been active with such ideological groups as the American Conservative Union and Turning Point USA.
As the nation pushes back on the effort to challenge Biden’s win, which Gaetz continues to undermine with as much fervor as anyone, the Congressman believes actions are already underway to silence the right further.
“Just last week, they were telling us that they were going to be the party of unity and healing and democracy, and now they’re trying to expel members of Congress that have been duly elected,” he said. “They’re trying to impeach and remove a president of the United States, and they’re not doing much to help lower the temperature in our country at all.”
Dunn on the health beat
Panama City Republican Neal Dunn, a surgeon by trade, will serve in this Congress on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The appointment will give the Congressman a significant voice on health care reforms that come out of Congress.
“The Committee is at the forefront of innovation in the health care, energy and technology sectors, and we must enact policies to allow American entrepreneurship to thrive for decades to come,” he said. “As a doctor, I’m passionate about lowering our health care costs and finding common-sense solutions that will strengthen the doctor-patient relationship.”
Ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers welcomed the medical professional to the committee. “It’s the most influential committee in the House, especially in health care,” she said. “Congressman Neal Dunn brings invaluable medical expertise and knowledge that make him a great asset to our team.”
Dunn made clear medical bills won’t be his only focus.
“We must sustain America’s energy independence and leverage our research assets to spur tech innovation. My constituents have also reached out to me about expanding rural broadband infrastructure to help with the rise in remote work and telehealth,” he said.
“These priorities will not only strengthen our economy and help grow my district, but as we saw through Operation Warp Speed, they can save lives. I’m grateful for this incredible opportunity to serve on one of the oldest committees in Congress, and I look forward to using this platform to improve the quality of life for my constituents.”
Rep. Stephanie Murphy is returning to a seat on the House Armed Services Committee after seeking and receiving a waiver from the Democratic caucus allowing it.
Murphy already has a seat on the exclusive House Ways and Means Committee, which means it is supposed to be the only committee its members serve. She served solely on that committee in the 116th Congress.
But Murphy, a former Defense Department analyst, had previously served on the Armed Services Committee in the 115th Congress, and she wanted back on that committee, while still serving on Ways and Means for the 117th Congress. She got her wish, her office announced Friday.
“Our country faces many threats, from foreign and domestic terrorists; to authoritarian countries like China, Russia, and Iran; to existential challenges like pandemic disease and climate change,” Murphy said in a news release issued by her office. “I will use my seat on the House Armed Services Committee to help America combat these threats, to further strengthen Florida’s position as one of the most defense-friendly states in the nation, and to support our service members, veterans, and military families.”
Murphy’s office argued that her membership on Armed Services could be especially beneficial to Florida, home to over 20 military bases and three combatant command headquarters, namely Central Command, Southern Command, and Special Operations Command. Nearly 135,000 Department of Defense personnel — uniformed and civilian — reside in Florida, and defense spending accounts for approximately 915,000 jobs throughout the state. Florida has the third-highest veteran population of any state.
‘He’s a hero’
While questions continue to swirl around Capitol Police preparation for demonstrations that morphed into riots last week, members of the Delegation highly praised officers on duty who protected the chambers. Pinellas Democrat Charlie Crist now has filed legislation praising one officer, Eugene Goodman, who lured mobs away from the Senate chambers. His tactics were captured in a viral video.
“He’s a hero,” Crist said. “The United States Capitol was under attack by armed, violent extremists, and Officer Eugene Goodman was the only thing standing between the mob and the United States Senate. I shudder to think what might have happened had it not been for Officer Goodman’s fast thinking and commitment to his duty and his country. While some will remember last Wednesday for the very worst in our country, the patriotism and heroics of Officer Eugene Goodman renew my faith and remind us all what truly makes the United States great.”
Crist introduced a bill along with Missouri Democrat Emanuel Cleaver and South Carolina Republican Nancy Mace. If passed, Goodman will receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor awarded by the legislative branch.
“The actions of Officer Goodman were heroic and represent the best of law enforcement,” Mace said.
“If not for the quick, decisive and heroic actions from Officer Goodman, the tragedy of last week’s insurrection could have multiplied in magnitude to levels never before seen in American history,” Cleaver added.
Steube stands his ground
When new metal detectors rolled out at the Capitol, it caused a stir among several members of Congress adamant about their right to carry concealed weapons. Sarasota Republican Greg Steube wasn’t among those who tried to dodge machines or bring guns through anyway, but he gave a forceful message from the floor criticizing the security measure.
“Take note, America. This is what you have to look forward to in a Joe Biden administration,” Steube said. “If they can do it right here in the People’s House, they will attempt to do it across the country.”
After the Capitol riots, Pelosi put in the machinery part of a series of amplified security measures following the complex’s first breach since the War of 1812. She also announced fines for those trying to evade the metal detectors, $5,000 for a first offense and $10,000 for a second offense.
But Steube, who’s known to skip debates during campaign season if organizations won’t let him carry, said disarming House members targets the wrong group. If anything, the riots show folly by hindering Representatives’ self-defense capability, he said
“Instead of working with Republicans to make sure that never happened again, the Speaker and her Democratic colleagues think an appropriate response is to prevent members from exercising their Second Amendment constitutional rights in the very place that wasn’t secure a week ago,” he said. “This attack didn’t come from the inside. It came from the outside. And to respond by restricting members’ Second Amendment rights in the very institution that is supposed to uphold those rights is appalling.”
Stuart Republican Brian Mast wants to make sure — even as there’s a transition in administrations, the U.S. holds a hard line on terrorism against Israel. He filed bipartisan legislation with New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer to impose sanctions on any foreign persons, agencies, and government assisting Hamas, the Palestinian Jihad or any affiliates. The Army veteran cited service alongside Israeli forces in motivating his support.
“Following my service in the Army, I chose to volunteer alongside the Israeli Defense Forces because our countries share the common ideals of freedom, democracy and mutual respect for all people,” Mast said. “Hamas preaches destruction to Israel and death to the values we hold dear in the United States. The United States must not tolerate anybody who provides support to these radical Islamic terrorists.”
If passed, the legislation will require the administration to report on entities knowingly assisting Hamas and then enforcing sanctions such as denying economic guarantees, support from the Arms Export Control Act, the export of loans more than $10 million or seizing property in the U.S. It’s a step up in economic consequences from what’s already in last year’s Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act, which passed in the House. The sponsors hope to get the legislation passed into las this Congress.
“This bill will strengthen sanctions to weaken these terrorist groups that threaten our ally Israel, undermine peace, and further destabilize the Middle East,” Gottheimer said. “This bipartisan legislation, which has already passed the House unanimously, also contains important humanitarian considerations. I hope Congress will swiftly pass the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act so it can be signed into law.”
Sworn at last
Miami Republican Maria Elvira Salazar had to watch from home as most colleagues in the House freshman class took their oaths of office in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 3. The Miami Republican should have been there, her November defeat of Democratic incumbent Donna Shalala serving as one of the most surprising wins of the cycle for House Republicans.
But Salazar’s staff revealed ahead of the swearing event that she had been hospitalized with heart arrhythmia. She was then diagnosed with COVID-19. That meant self-isolation. Thanks to exceptionally bad timing, the infection also meant she had to delay becoming a House member, which could impact committee assignments for her entire tenure in Congress.
Still, she had her day, just later than expected. In a small ceremony Tuesday, Salazar made it to Washington, where House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy administered the oath of office. She shared an image of the event with daughters Nicoletta and Martina at her side.
“I was born in Little Havana — the daughter of political refugees,” she wrote on social media. “As a little girl, I never thought that I’d one day represent the very same community that welcomed my parents with open arms. This is the American dream.”
Cuba & FORCE
Salazar’s first piece of legislation came on a timely subject, U.S. relations with Cuba. The Cuban American introduced the Fighting Oppression until the Reign of Castro Ends, or FORCE, Act.
The bill supports Cuba’s recent re-designation as a state sponsor of terror, a change Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced this week. That reverses Barack Obama-era efforts to normalize relationships, and notably comes just as Obama’s Vice President prepares to move into the Oval Office. If Salazar’s bill becomes law, it will prevent the Biden administration from delisting Cuba again until the communist nation releases political prisoners and allows investigations by human association, a complete transition away from Raul Castro‘s influence, and a commitment to free and fair elections. These are the same requirements to lift a U.S. embargo.
“As the daughter of Cuban refugees who fled the brutal dictatorship that continues to jail, starve, murder and systematically oppress the people of Cuba, I am proud to introduce the FORCE Act,” Salazar said. “The FORCE Act holds the Castro regime accountable for harboring fugitives of the American justice system, propping up the [Nicolás] Maduro and [Daniel] Ortega regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua, respectively, and engaging in violent acts of terrorism across our hemispheres.”
Several other members of the Delegation signed on immediately as co-sponsors, including Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Gimenez, Neal Dunn, Michael Waltz and Kat Cammack.
“It is imperative that Cuba remain on the SST list for its support of foreign terrorist organization such as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and ELN (National Liberation Army), harboring terrorists such as Joanne Chesimard and propping up to oppressive, anti-American dictatorship in Venezuela,” said Diaz-Balart.
“We must maintain a political posture of sustained pressure on the communist Castro regime in Cuba,” Gimenez agreed. “Cuba’s fluctuating status as a state sponsor of terrorist weakens our grip of enforcement of the LIBERTAD Act and undercuts our diplomatic efforts to transition Cuba into a freer and more open country.”
On this day
Jan. 15, 1870 — “First appearance of the Democratic Party donkey” via History.com — The first recorded use of a donkey to represent the Democratic Party appears in Harper’s Weekly. Drawn by political illustrator Thomas Nast, the cartoon is entitled “A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion.” The jackass (donkey) is tagged “Copperhead Papers,” referring to the Democrat-dominated newspapers of the South, and the dead lion represents the late Edwin McMasters Stanton, President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war during the final three years of the Civil War. In the background is an eagle perched on a rock, representing the postwar federal domination in the South, and in the far background is the U.S. Capitol.
Jan. 15, 1951 — “Irving Feiner must go to jail, Supreme Court rules inciting a riot not protected speech” via the Syracuse Herald-Journal — The U.S. Supreme upheld 6-3 the disorderly conduct conviction of Feiner, 24, former Syracuse University student arrested in connection with a street corner speech. Feiner already served two days of the 30-day jail sentence handed down by Police Court Judge William H. Bamerick after a trial in the spring of 1949. He was arrested March 8, 1949, when he three times refused a policeman’s request to halt a speech that the court said “deliberately” threatened to cause disorder and “perhaps even … riot.”