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Impeach Trump? Florida Democrats used to be on the fence. Not anymore.

The first call for an investigation came in April. Most joined on Tuesday.
The rising sun divides the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday morning, Sept. 25, 2019, the day after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., declared she will launch a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) [J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE | AP]
Published Sep. 25
Updated Sep. 25

U.S. Rep. Val Demings didn’t need more than the Mueller report to conclude that Congress should begin an impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump. As early as April, the Orlando Democrat was urging her House colleagues to join her.

“We are struggling to justify why we aren’t beginning impeachment proceedings,” Demings reportedly said during a call with House Democrats soon after special counsel Robert Mueller released the findings of his investigation.

But Demings was an outlier in her state for a long time. Florida Democrats have not rushed to demand impeachment at the same speed of some of their counterparts around the country. Heading into September, half of the Democrats in the House of Representatives already supported an impeachment investigation, according to a CNN analysis. But only three members of the Florida delegation were ready to take that step.

RELATED STORY: How would an impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump work?

The ground shifted dramatically in the past 24 hours as news continued to emerge that President Trump pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. As Speaker Nancy Pelosi readied the House to take this rare step, more and more Florida Democrats joined their colleagues and agreed an impeachment inquiry was needed.

No Florida Republicans have publicly supported the investigation.

Here is a timeline of when Florida’s Democrats in Congress first supported an impeachment investigation into the president, and who joined the call in recent days.

April 22

Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., questions former special counsel Robert Mueller as he testifies to the House Judiciary Committee about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) [J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE | AP]

Rep. Val Demings, D-Orlando

After the Mueller report release, Pelosi preached patience to a growing sect of the Democratic caucus who felt the investigation’s findings were enough to launch in impeachment investigation into the president.

Demings, the former chief of police in Orlando, pushed back. In a conference call with Pelosi and her colleagues, Demings reportedly said that based on her law enforcement experience, the evidence laid bare by the findings was enough to act.

“While I understand we need to see the full report and all supporting documents, I believe we have enough evidence now,” she said. “We are struggling to justify why we aren’t beginning impeachment proceedings.”

June 2

Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens

Trump declared the Mueller report had “totally exonerated” him. This wasn’t true, and in late May, Mueller made his first public comments to clarify what the report did and did not say.

“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said. He added that he did not recommend charges against Trump because you cannot indict a sitting president, but noted there were other avenues in the constitution to try a commander-in-chief.

Hearing the words straight from Mueller’s mouth reinvigorated calls for the House to begin impeachment. And within a few days, Wilson told a South Florida television station that she, too, was ready to proceed.

June 21

Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Miami-Dade and Monroe counties

In mid June, there was a growing push for Democrats to back an impeachment inquiry from grassroots organizations and a group funded by wealthy Democratic donor (and now presidential candidate) Tom Steyer. Mucarsel-Powell was a target of that pressure.

With the Trump administration dragging its feet on subpoenas and failing to cooperate with congressional investigations, Mucarsel-Powell said she had learned all she needed to proceed.

“The President’s egregious and troubling actions are not limited to those detailed in the report," said Mucarsel-Powell, a member of the House Judiciary Committee. "Since the release of Mueller’s report, the President has ignored multiple congressional subpoenas and asserted an abusive and illegitimate use of executive privilege. All of this in an attempt to hide information and undermine the checks and balances of our government. This President has engaged in behavior that we have not seen, nor would we have allowed, from the other 44 men who have occupied that office. This is why I support opening an impeachment inquiry into the President.”

Aug. 1

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton

As the House Judiciary Committee continued its investigation into Trump, his campaign and his businesses, some began to question: How is this different than an impeachment investigation?

Deutch, one of the top-ranking Democrats on the committee, provided an answer on Aug. 1: It’s not.

In an op-ed, the South Florida Democrat said that the Judiciary Committee’s work was, essentially, the early groundwork for an impeachment investigation.

“No additional step is required,” he wrote. “No magic words need to be uttered on the House floor. No vote to authorize an impeachment inquiry is necessary.”

"The Judiciary Committee officially started its investigation into the abuse of power by Trump on March 4, 2019. The stated purpose was to consider all constitutional remedies for presidential misconduct, including impeachment. 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."

RELATED STORY: Impeachment reaction: What Florida members of Congress said about Pelosi’s announcement

Sept. 12

Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando

For months, Rep. Jerry Nadler, chairman of House Judiciary Committee, has grappled with how to define the parameters of his committee’s investigation into Trump. In September, the pull grew stronger from Democratic members who wanted Nadler to affirm that their work was leading toward the drafting of articles of impeachment.

Soto on Sept. 12 sided with those who believed the committee was engaged in an impeachment inquiry. And in a tweet, Soto said he was “open-minded” to taking the rare and grave step of voting to impeach the president.

Sept. 24

Rep. Kathy Castor, right, and Rep. Charlie Crist, were among local members of Congress the Times reached out to for their views on recent statements by Robert Mueller. Crist said Congress should subpoena Mueller for further testimony. Castor did not respond. [CHRIS URSO | Times]

Reps. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg; Kathy Castor, D-Tampa; Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar; Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach; Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston; Donna Shalala, D-Miami

In the course of a week, reports emerged that the White House had blocked Congress from seeing a whistleblower complaint about Trump’s interactions with a foreign leader. In the days following, reporting from multiple news outlets suggested that on a July 25 phone call, Trump asked President Volodymyr Zelensky to work with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani on an investigation of Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of a Ukranian gas company.

Around the same time as the call, Trump withheld $250 million in military aid to Ukraine, leading some to suggest that Trump was extorting a foreign government to dig up dirt on a political rival for use by his campaign. Trump has acknowledged he slow-walked aid to Ukraine before releasing it and also said he implored Zelensky to investigate corruption there, including the Bidens, though he denied it was for political purposes.

RELATED STORY: What we know, what we don’t about Trump’s Ukraine call, a whistleblower and the Bidens

This is when the dam broke and many Florida Democrats stepped off the sidelines toward impeachment. Many of these latecomers represent Pelosi loyalists, like Castor, Shalala and Wasserman Schultz, who were waiting for the speaker to signal her support for an investigation. At 5 p.m. Tuesday, she did.

Sept. 25

Reps. Stephanie Murphy, D-Winter Park; Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee

On Wednesday, the White House released a memo with details of the president’s call with the Ukranian president. Trump said it would vindicate him. Instead, it pushed Murphy, one of the last holdouts and one of Congress’ most moderate Democrats, to reluctantly embrace an impeachment inquiry.

The memo confirmed Trump asked Zelensky to investigate the Bidens and share information with his personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani. “This is an abuse of executive power,” Murphy tweeted. “I support the House’s ongoing impeachment inquiry to get the facts for the American people.”

By Wednesday evening, Lawson, the last holdout, backed Pelosi’s actions. In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, Lawson said Trump’s conversation with the Ukrainian president was “not only embarrassing, but undermines the integrity of our elections, the dignity of the office and threatens our national security.”

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., attends an executive session of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) SUSAN WALSH  |  AP
    The senator drew backlash for the claim on ABC’s “The View.”
  2. Former sheriff of Broward County Scott Israel, right, and his attorney Benedict Kuehne wait their turn to speak to the Senate Rules Committee concerning his dismissal by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) STEVE CANNON  |  AP
    The vote is expected to be seen as a political victory for the governor and validation for the families of the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
  3. Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, speaks on the floor of the Florida House. Grall is sponsoring a bill for the second time that would require parental consent for minors to obtain an abortion.
    The legislation would enact a consent requirement for minors.
  4. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. "OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES"  |  Times
    He could use his position on the Board of Clemency to allow nonviolent felons to serve on juries and run for office.
  5. Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, says the Legislative Black Caucus will prioritize both public education and school choice during the 2020 Florida session. The caucus held a news conference on Oct. 22, 2019. The Florida Channel
    The caucus announced its 2020 goals for justice, housing and other key issues, as well, with members saying they will stick together to pursue them.
  6. CHRIS URSO   |   Times
Florida Governor elect Ron DeSantis, right, thanks supporters including Ukrainian businessman Lev Parnas, left, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Orlando. DeSantis defeated Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum. CHRIS URSO  |  Times
    This new fact indicates an attempt to directly influence DeSantis’ early policy agenda as he took office, one that DeSantis said was unsuccessful.
  7. Pre-season baseball practice at Wesley Chapel High School. Lawmakers want to ensure student-athletes remain safe in the Florida heat as they participate in high school sports. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    PreK-12 Innovation chairman Rep. Ralph Massullo expects legislation requiring some ‘simple things.’
  8. President Donald Trump speaking during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS  |  AP
    And few people are on the fence.
  9. Former sheriff of Broward County Scott Israel, right, and his attorney Benedict Knuhne wait their turn to speak to the Senate Rules Committee concerning his dismissal by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Monday Oct. 21, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) STEVE CANNON  |  AP
    The full Senate will vote on the issue Wednesday.
  10. Parents of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a shooter killed 17 people in 2018, push petitions for 2020 ban on assault weapons in Florida. (Miami Herald) MIAMI HERALD
    After months of glitches, the Department of State is resorting to a paper workaround while ballot initiatives face higher costs.
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