ORLANDO — Florida Democrats gathered over the weekend at a posh Disney hotel in Orlando, where they had plenty to say about President Donald Trump and the Republican record on abortion, health care and immigration.
Here’s what they didn’t talk about: Impeachment.
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The topic has transfixed Washington and divided Democrats who control the U.S. House, which has launched investigations into the president in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
But in Orlando, there was barely a whisper about impeachment and little talk about whether the president had attempted to obstruct the Mueller probe, a sign of how politically fraught the subject is. Party leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have urged restraint even as the grassroots rank-and-file clamor for red meat going into the 2020 presidential campaign.
On Saturday, before an audience of some 1,500 party faithful, Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida’s lone statewide elected Democrat, eviscerated the GOP-controlled state Legislature and Trump, at one point saying that the Republican Party thought it was “OK to grab a woman’s pussy,” a reference to an Access Hollywood tape of Trump that surfaced days before his 2016 victory.
But Fried avoided stopped short of calling for Trump’s impeachment and didn’t once mention the Mueller investigation.
“We need to be focusing on the issues that Americans care about,” Fried said after the gala. “I think the best way to impeach the president is to elect him out of office in 2020. That is the way we impeach him, it’s at the ballot box.”
The only speaker at the event to broach the subject was U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn, chairman of the House Democratic caucus. In a blistering speech, Jeffries said House Democrats have a “constitutional responsibility to serve as a check and balance” on the president.
“We will never bend the knee to Donald J. Trump,” Jeffries said. “No one is above the law in the United States of America.”
The Florida party’s annual fundraiser and convention wrapped less than two weeks before Trump plans a trip to the battleground state to kick off his 2020 campaign. As the president shifts into re-election mode, Democrats are facing deep divisions over how to gain control of the White House.
“I have no idea why it’s not part of the messaging,” said one Florida party leader on Sunday when asked about impeachment. “Heard grumbling that it wasn’t voiced last night though. Grassroots people want impeachment addressed and spoken about”
Trump, a part-time resident of Florida, won the Sunshine State by only 113,000 votes 2016, but his victory, and narrow wins by Gov. Ron DeSantis and now-Sen. Rick Scott two years later, have emboldened Republicans in the must-win state.
Democrats are still dissecting what went wrong in 2018. On Saturday, they gave a lifetime achievement award to longtime Sen. Bill Nelson, who Scott unseated. Nelson was one of a handful of party leaders who raised the issue of Russian interference in 2016, noting that, while on the campaign trail, he had warned that Russians had “penetrated” voter files.
The Mueller report later validated that claim.
But Russia was in the rear-view mirror over the weekend. Florida Democrats focused on bread-and-butter issues, including Washington’s delay in approving aid for Hurricane Michael and Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They rallied against abortion bills that have swept through GOP-controlled state legislatures.
“I as a voter, and I think a lot of Florida voters, want to vote for something,” said State Rep. Margaret Good, a Sarasota Democrat who last year flipped a conservative district Trump had taken in 2016.
“We want to vote for equality, for women’s rights, for access to health care,” Good said. “Those are the things that the Democratic Party is focused on.”