Listening session

In this 2017 file photo, U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster listens to constituents during a town hall meeting in Beverly Hills.

Rioters did not remove a lectern or anything else from U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster’s office.

No one in uniform arrived to move him and his staff to safe haven.

Webster, absent from the House floor due to COVID-19 restrictions, watched the Wednesday, Jan. 6, drama unfold on TV like millions of other Americans.

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“Nobody came to my office. Nobody came down the hall. Nobody banged on the door,” Webster, R-Clermont, said during a phone interview with the Citrus County Chronicle to discuss the historic events of the past two weeks and anticipating Joe Biden’s inauguration Wednesday.

Webster was not in Washington this week for the impeachment vote due to family medical obligations. He said he would have voted no because there isn’t enough time left in President Donald Trump’s term to conduct fair hearings.

“With just a few days left, we might need to do stuff but not impeach the president,” he said.

On Wednesday, Jan. 6, as Congress met to certify electoral votes for president, Webster had already announced plans to object to vote results in Arizona, Pennsylvania and three other battleground states.

Webster said he was objecting on constitutional grounds, not to overturn the election results in Trump’s favor.

He joined 137 fellow Republicans in objecting to the Pennsylvania results and 120 other Republicans objecting to the Arizona results. Neither vote ended in their favor.

With COVID-19 rules limiting the number of legislators in the chambers at one time, Webster was in his congressional office when protesters stormed the Capitol. The deadly riot has so far resulted in nearly 100 arrests and a federal criminal investigation.

Webster said he was never in any danger, and that he watched the carnage unfold on TV.

Asked what he was thinking while the attack was taking place, Webster said it was a large crowd that got out of control.

“I thought, somebody’s breaking the law,” he said. “They’re breaching doors that shouldn’t be breached. It’s sad for an event to turn into something that was more than that.”

Webster said Trump bears responsibility for the protesters’ actions, but they did not warrant impeachment this late into his term, with no time for committee review or debate.

“I think that’s overreaction,” he said.

Webster, a three-decade veteran of elected office and a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, paused when asked his opinion on the state of the country today.

“We have a divided nation, a deeply divided nation,” he said. “I spent my whole career not wanting to divide, but to unite. The damage is already done to that. I don’t know what will happen from it.”

Webster said legislation should be based on ideas, not the pedigree of the bill’s sponsor.

“Power and principle cannot coexist,” he said. “That’s the kind of Congress I hope for.”

Asked what advice he would give the incoming president to bring about unity, Webster said it starts with Congress.

“I would tell him to be open to these ideas,” he said. “I want to have a member driven, principle based Congress. What that means is you push down the pyramid of power, spread out the base so every person elected, no matter what district in the country, has an opportunity to be a player, to be effective.”

The result, Webster said, will be legislation that Biden will want to sign.

“Whatever he can do to produce that,” he said, “what he receives on his desk is the product of what I just said.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com. To view more of his stories, go to www.tinyurl.com/y3bakm6w.