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‘We are in a democracy crisis’: Kathy Castor’s all in on impeaching Trump

The Tampa Democrat said Tuesday that impeachment was an unavoidable step in holding to account a “horrendous abuse of power.”
Rep. Kathy Castor speaks with members of the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019 in St. Petersburg.
Rep. Kathy Castor speaks with members of the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019 in St. Petersburg. [ CHRIS URSO | Times (2019) ]
Published Oct. 1, 2019
Updated Oct. 1, 2019

Although she and other Democrats had avoided supporting impeachment during the Mueller investigation, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said Tuesday that new details about President Donald Trump’s use of public power for his own private gain left them no choice but to proceed with impeachment.

“Here’s a case now that’s in black and white, with this whistleblower complaint and everything Trump has said,” Castor said. “There’s been this horrendous abuse of power and there must be some accountability for it.”

“I don’t think folks understood that it was this dire,” Castor told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board, describing what she said was the scope of White House corruption. “That President Trump, and now even the Secretary of State (Mike Pompeo) and the Attorney General (William Barr) were part of this effort to use taxpayer military aid to an ally, that he was willing to use that to shake down a newly elected president and advance his personal political interest.”

“The hubris is just stunning,” Castor said. Three times, she described the current situation as a “democracy crisis.”

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

Castor’s certitude matches that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. During the Mueller report, from its ongoing investigation until its conclusion, Pelosi, Castor and other Democrats in House leadership sidestepped support for a formal impeachment process in favor of less urgent inquiries into elections interference and Trump’s finances.

But details about the July 25 phone call between Trump and the newly elected Ukrainian president were too clear cut not to prompt a formal impeachment process, Castor said.

When asked what changed between Mueller and learning last week about the July 25 phone call, Castor replied: “It was right there in the transcript of the call. A whistleblower has come forward. The more you look at it, the more you understand the narrative of Ukraine and the Ukrainian election, what is in plain sight in their public statements, whether it’s on Fox News or on Twitter. It’s such an abuse of power. It strikes at the heart of our Constitution.”

RELATED STORY: Transcript shows Donald Trump prodded Ukraine leader on Biden claims

While Democrats have received some criticism from Republicans for moving ahead with the impeachment process without taking a vote, Castor said such a step isn’t necessary.

“If the articles of impeachment come to the floor of the House, people will have an opportunity to vote,” Castor said.

Castor said she wasn’t sure what happens next. She thinks the impeachment process in the House can wrap up by the end of the year.

“It depends on the testimony of this whistleblower and the Inspector General from the intelligence community,” she said. “I’ve noticed that Pompeo said he won’t cooperate. The more they obstruct, the more they dig themselves a hole. I’d like to hear from the former ambassador from the U.S. to the Ukraine (Marie Yovanovitch) about why she was sacked. And the Ukraine envoy, Kurt Volker. Pompeo can’t deny him to testify now that’s he stepped down.”

RELATED STORY: The Ukraine phone call and why things are different this time for Trump

Still, she acknowledged that the nation was entering uncharted territory and that impeachment’s impact of the 2020 election were unclear.

“It’s hard to tell,” Castor said. “Florida’s an enigma. Every election is so close. I don’t think anyone can predict.”

Castor hasn’t been on the tip of the spear of House Democrats demanding that Trump be impeached. Before the disclosure about the Ukraine transcript summary, Castor supported the general inquiries into Trump. But she stopped short, like Pelosi, in supporting an official impeachment process.

She reflects a district that she says are filled with constituents who want to talk about affordable drugs, lower health care costs, more affordable and better schools, and higher wages.

“Impeachment is such a divisive move,” Castor said.

Since the release of the transcript, however, she has plenty of company in changing her mind. A CBS News survey on Sunday indicated that 55 percent of Americans support an impeachment investigation. Democrats overwhelmingly support impeachment. Of the 235 Democrats in the U.S. House, only 12 have yet to call for even an inquiry. All it takes for Trump to be impeached is a simple majority. Since Democrats enjoy a 38 seat advantage over Republicans, that should be easy.

Impeachment isn’t expected to produce a conviction in the Senate, which is firmly controlled by Republicans and requires a two-thirds vote. So while the House didn’t require any Republicans to join Democrats, 20 Republicans would need to join Democrats to remove Trump from office. That’s unlikely.

Castor, 53, is the daughter of former University of South Florida president Betty Castor. She served on the Hillsborough County Commission from 2003 to 2007 before leaving to join Congress. Her district covers Tampa and parts of Hillsborough County.

Castor asserted that Democrats who control the House of Representatives haven’t been distracted by Trump or divisive partisanship.

She pointed out that Democrats have passed bills requiring background checks for all gun sales or transfers; prohibitions against discrimination of LGBTQ Americans in housing, education, employment and credit; equal pay for women in the workplace; fairer elections and a crackdown on the “Zombie Campaign” practice of lawmakers tapping campaign funds long after they’ve left office.

“We’ve done a lot,” Castor said. “But here we are in October, and it’s appropriate that (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell calls himself the ‘Grim Reaper’ because we just feel like these (bills) have gone over into a graveyard.”

On the issue of the environment, Castor holds some sway as the chair of the House’s climate change committee. She said the assignment has been eye opening.

“After spending a lot of time listening to experts and holding a number of hearings, we cannot wait any longer,” Castor said. “We have got to have aggressive carbon reduction plans. What sticks out to me: the state of Florida is so far behind. I have a front row seat to what other states are doing, most other states have clean energy goals and mandates. Florida has none. Most states have energy efficiency goals or standards. Florida? No.”

Castor faulted the state’s business model, where the sale of energy gets compensated in Florida for the more that’s sold and utilities can produce big profits from capital intensive projects.

“The Legislature and the governor have to go back and change the incentives,” Castor said. “The incentives don’t match the challenges we face.”

Castor said she met with Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year to discuss climate issues.

“He ran on environmental issues and he needs to pivot to real climate issues,” Castor said. His resilience officer who will focus on climate change is a “positive”, as was the diverting some of $166 million in VW settlement money to electric charging stations.

Overall, however, Castor described that as “small ball.”

“That’s the least we should be doing right now,” she said.