Four Florida Moments From the U.S. House's Impeachment Debate

President Donald Trump has the dubious honor of becoming the only president in history to have been impeached twice — the first time on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and most recently for encouraging his supporters to interfere in the certification of election results and inciting an attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Ten Republican members of Congress broke with their party to vote to charge Trump with incitement of insurrection. Miami's Republican representatives in the House — Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos A. Giménez, and Maria Elvira Salazar — voted against impeaching the president for his role in the invasion of the Capitol. And a number of the 197 House Republicans who voted against impeachment, including a few from Florida, used their platform to continue defending the president in the wake of the mob attack and repeated the lies about voter fraud Trump has spread.

Below are four Florida moments from the U.S. House of Representatives' impeachment vote.

Rep. Matt Gaetz spreads false claims and teaches a masterclass in whataboutism. U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who represents the state's western Panhandle, is among the president's unwavering defenders in Congress. Gaetz voted to decertify Electoral College votes in Arizona, threatened former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen on Twitter before Cohen testified against Trump in a House oversight committee meeting, and has openly said that Trump should pardon himself and members of his administration to avoid future prosecution.

On the House floor Wednesday, Gaetz sounded like a cross between a Shakespearean soliloquist and a two-bit defense lawyer going to bat for this client.

"We have the 2020 election, where the president correctly pointed out unconstitutional behavior, voting irregularities, concerns over tabulations, dead people voting, and now, impeachment again," Gaetz said.

Election security experts have said the 2020 presidential race was the most secure in American history and that there was no evidence of voter fraud. News outlets also debunked conspiracy theories about people voting from beyond the grave in states like Michigan.

Gaetz also appeared to blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for some of the violence at the Capitol.

"Before the rioters tore through that glass, Speaker Pelosi stood at that rostrum and tore through the president's State of the Union speech, inciting anger, resentment, division," he said. "Some believe that truly these true colors are being shown now through this divisive partisan impeachment."

Gaetz claimed Democrats incited more violence than Republicans, alluding to the social-justice protests that followed police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor last year.

"For months, our cities burned, police stations burned, our businesses were shattered and [the Left] said nothing," Gaetz said. "They cheer-led for it, fundraised for it, and they allowed it to happen in the greatest country in the world. Some have cited the metaphor that the president lit the flame. Well, they lit actual flames, actual fires, and we need to put them out."

Apparently a reference to the burning of Minneapolis' third police precinct, Gaetz failed to mention that a self-proclaimed member of the far-right group Boogaloo Bois was arrested on a charge of inciting a riot after spraying the police building with bullets and bragging that he helped set it aflame.

Rep. Bill Posey blames the nation's divisiveness on the "Resist" movement. Posey's district includes Vero Beach, Melbourne, and Titusville on the east central coast of Florida. The president endorsed him in his bid for re-election last year. Posey discussed how politically divided the nation is, and he said the Resistance, a liberal political movement that formed after Trump was elected president, was partly to blame.

"Now more than ever in our lifetimes, we are a divided nation," Posey said. "One of the reasons — the Resist movement, which has harassed, harangued, and denigrated the president since the second he became nominee. While his sins may be different from yours or mine, they are clearly not treasonous."

Posey said the effort to impeach Trump "reeks of nothing more than revenge."

Republicans largely claim that Americans should move on from what happened at the Capitol. Nothing to see here. But Democrats argue that letting Trump go unpunished for using his power to incite his base into an attack on the legislative branch of government is not an option.
Rep. Greg Steube cites KKK court case to defend Trump's rhetoric. It isn't every day that a U.S. congressman cites a landmark Supreme Court case involving a Ku Klux Klan leader's hateful speech to absolve Trump of responsibility in the Capitol attack. Rep. Greg Steube, whose district includes Ft. Myers, Sarasota, and part of Tampa, insisted that there was no language in the president's address to his supporters that provoked violence.

"The legal elements of incitement are based on the Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio, in which the Supreme Court set the standard for speech that could be prosecuted without violating the First Amendment," Steube said on the House floor. "Brandenburg's speech called for violence against groups of Americans, and the court found that Brandenburg's comments were not directed to inciting or producing 'imminent lawless action.' The court found that it was protected speech, and he was calling for violence. That's the current law of the land. The president didn't even mention violence [on January 6], much less provoke or incite it."

In 1964, Clarence Brandenburg, a Klan leader in rural Ohio, gave a speech during a KKK rally and claimed that the United States government was trying to suppress the "white, Caucasian race" and spoke of "revengeance" (sic) against Black and Jewish people. He announced a plan to march on Washington on Independence Day that year.

Brandenburg was charged with advocating "the necessity, or propriety of crime, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing political reform" under a state law that was enacted to oppose social. political, and economic radicalism. He was fined $1,000 and sentenced to one to ten years in jail, but he appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. SCOTUS reversed his conviction and overturned the law under which he was charged. The court established that speech advocating illegal behavior is protected under the First Amendment unless the speech is directed at inciting "imminent lawless action" and that such action is likely to happen.

In the months leading up to the November 3 election, Trump undermined the electoral process by repeatedly and falsely claiming that the election was marred by voter fraud and that Democrats were out to steal his victory. During his speech on January 6, the day Congress met jointly to certify President-Elect Joe Biden's win, Trump told a crowd of his supporters that they needed to be strong, fight, and "not take it any longer."

"And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore," Trump said before the riot.
Rep. Brian Mast's awkward silence. Rep. Brian Mast, whose congressional district stretches from West Palm Beach to Port St. Lucie, thought he made a point during the impeachment debate. He asked if any of the people who stormed the Capitol had been brought to Congress to answer whether they did so because of the president. After standing in silence for 30 seconds, the congressman said, "It appears I will receive no answer," and then he turned away from the lectern to an awkward round of applause.

Mast must not have realized that his question was an incredible self-own because 1) there is a video of rioters screaming at police, "We were invited here," and "We were invited by the president of the United States," and 2) that's not how this works. You don't get to storm the Capitol building with riot gear, weapons, and plastic handcuffs, then appear on the House floor with your tail tucked between your legs.
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Alexi C. Cardona is a former staff writer at Miami New Times.