A Liberal’s Call to Action

Wexler Makes Case for a ‘Liberal Surge’

Posted June 23, 2008 at 4:30pm

For a Member with only moderate seniority and without any major legislation to his credit, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) has found himself in some pretty high-profile spots.

He served as one of President Bill Clinton’s chief surrogates during impeachment proceedings and represented the South Florida district that was ground zero for voting irregularities during the 2000 presidential election. He is also leading a charge for the impeachment of Vice President Cheney.

It’s a résumé that appears to justify the label “Fire-Breathing Liberal,” which is the title of Wexler’s new book, which hits stores today.

The book has two purposes, according to Wexler: to detail a Member of Congress’ daily life and to serve as a “liberal call to action.”

“I’m not aware of any other sitting Member of Congress that has put the word ‘liberal’ right in the title of his or her book,” Wexler said in an interview. “I try to state the case for why the time for a progressive or liberal surge is now.”

Wexler avoids overloading readers with biographical information, recognizing that in many cases his stories are more interesting than he is.

“I try to discuss the events that I’ve had an opportunity to be a part of, most of which were just either good fortune or the placement of my district,” he said.

For instance, as a freshman in 1997 angling for a spot on the Judiciary Committee, Wexler was warned by then-Minority Whip David Bonior (D-Mich.) that Clinton impeachment hearings could move through the committee within a year. Wexler recalls Bonior asking him, “Is that something you want to be involved with?”

Wexler laughed, viewing impeachment as an impossibility. But sure enough, after he got on the committee, proceedings began and the freshman emerged as one of Clinton’s fiercest defenders.

And Wexler could not have anticipated that controversy would envelop his district in the disputed election of 2000.

Another unanticipated moment in Wexler’s political career was his infamous 2006 appearance on Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” in which the host goaded the Congressman into saying, “I enjoy cocaine because it’s a fun thing to do.”

The premise was that Wexler was running unopposed, so he might as well have fun and say something that would ordinarily lose him re-election. But taken as a sound bite and out of context, the remark did not come across well.

Wexler said he realized he was in trouble when his 17-year-old daughter’s cell phone kept going off while they watched the show together.

“She must have gotten 200 text messages,” Wexler said. “Something to the effect of, ‘Your dad’s the coolest guy in the world.’”

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that cycle, later banned his freshman Members from going on “Colbert.”

Was it Wexler’s appearance that led to the ban?

“That might be a fair assessment,” Wexler said with a laugh.

Wexler was more calculated in calling for impeachment hearings for Cheney. He set up a Web site, wexlerwantshearings.com, through which he has gathered almost 250,000 signatures on a petition calling for hearings.

“I try to compare the situations in the book of Clinton versus our current situation,” Wexler said.

Wexler writes that his outspokenness in defense of Clinton and on Al Gore’s behalf in 2000 led to a slew of death threats that landed him a security detail.

But shying away from controversy, he said, is not his style.

“Every elected official has his or her own formula for success or participation,” Wexler said. “My view is: I only live once. Life is not a dress rehearsal. … My personality is to be passionate and as committed to a cause as I can possibly be.”

Wexler will sign copies of “Fire-Breathing Liberal: How I Learned to Survive (and Thrive) in the Contact Sport of Congress,” at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Trover Shop, 221 Pennsylvania Ave. SE.