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Michigan politicians targeted after impeachment vote

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Michigan members of Congress, particularly those facing tough re-election battles, are feeling the pressure after the U.S. House voted to impeach President Donald Trump and the U.S. Senate prepares to conduct an impeachment trial. 

A right-wing political group lost no time Wednesday in retaliating against Democratic freshmen Reps. Elissa Slotkin of Holly and Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills who last year flipped Republican districts and voted to impeach Trump. 

U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, speaks at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, urging Russia to release Paul Whelan of Novi, who is from her district.

Seven Michigan Democrats and one Republican turned Independent were among the majority in the U.S. House who voted Wednesday to impeach Trump for "abuse of power" and "obstruction of Congress." Michigan's six Republican U.S. House members voted against impeachment. 

Michigan's two senators, both Democrats, have promised to thoughtfully consider the evidence against the president when the Senate holds an impeachment trial, which is expected to happen in January. Republicans and conservative groups are especially watching U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, the first-term Bloomfield Township Democrat who is facing Republican challenger and impeachment opponent John James of Farmington Hills.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, reportedly is considering whether to delay sending the articles of impeachment to the Republican-controlled Senate, hoping to use it as leverage to negotiate how a Senate trial is conducted.

There's no middle ground for Democrats or Republicans to take on impeachment, leaving incumbents with serious challengers exposed to attacks, said David Dulio, professor of political science and director of Oakland University's Center for Civic Engagement.

All the same, "in this deeply divided time, it's really not a surprise that the vast majority of Democrats are going to vote for it," Dulio said.

The American Action Network launched a $2.5 million ad buy in television and digital markets in the districts of nearly a dozen House members in vulnerable districts, criticizing them for their impeachment vote. 

Among those members targeted through TV commercials is Slotkin, the former Central Intelligence Agency analyst who defeated former U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, by almost 4 percentage points. She announced Monday her support for impeachment. 

“Elissa Slotkin knows her constituents were not supportive of impeachment but voted for it anyway, a politically motivated charade that lets the Washington elites decide the election, not us,” the commercial says. 

The ad argued Slotkin and others in Congress focused on impeachment instead of more pressing issues like the opioid epidemic, border protection, and veteran benefits.

While being cheered and booed, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin explains why she supports impeachment proceedings against President Trump

Slotkin met with nearly 400 8th District constituents immediately after announcing her decision Monday, promising to stay focused on pressing issues and noting the impeachment was “bigger than politics.” She also has promoted her work on legislation seeking to reduce the high prices of prescription drugs. 

"I hope that even if people don't agree with my decision they see that I based my decision on my personal integrity," Slotkin said. "And that is the most I can do to show people that I hear them even if we don't agree."

The freshman congresswoman had — over the two months since announcing her support for the impeachment inquiry — worked to lower drug costs, combat the opioid epidemic and clean up PFAS chemical contaminants, a Slotkin spokeswoman noted Thursday. Slotkin voted yes on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. 

"Michiganders know that Rep. Slotkin is fighting for the issues that matter to them," said Slotkin's spokeswoman Hannah Lindow.

As vulnerable House Democrats entered the chamber before the impeachment voting began Wednesday evening, Slotkin told her colleagues, "See you on the other end,” according to USA Today. 

In a fundraising email Thursday, Slotkin noted the “somber vote” in the House occurred while Trump rallied in Battle Creek at an event “filled with hate and divisiveness.” The president won the 8th district — which covers portions of Ingham, northern Oakland and Livingston counties — by nearly 7 percentage points in 2016

“Elissa is excited and ready to continue that work in 2020 and beyond, regardless of what President Trump has to say at his rallies," the email said.

American Action Network, national non-profit that promotes itself as focusing on “center-right” ideas, also planned to make digital ad buys in Stevens’ 11th District, where the former Obama auto task force chief of staff flipped the seat of retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Trott of Birmingham. The Rochester Hills Democrat said Tuesday she would vote for impeachment. 

The White House attacked Stevens Wednesday morning after her announcement.

"It’s sad to see Rep. Haley Stevens try to hide her support for impeachment behind her support for USMCA, which could have passed Congress months ago if it weren’t for Nancy Pelosi leading this hoax," White House Deputy Press Secretary Steven Groves said in an email.

"Stevens needs to explain to Michiganders why she allowed this sham to hold up this historic trade deal, which has the potential to add hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in new economic activity, including $34 billion in new automotive plants and 76,000 new American automotive sector jobs."

Stevens voted to approve the new trade pact.

Countering the argument that the impeachment has distracted Democrats from the nation's business, a Democratic group with close ties to Pelosi launched October TV ads praising the legislative accomplishments of Slotkin and Stevens, including work on pensions, prescription drugs and manufacturing. 

The attacks haven't been limited to Democrats.

Republicans for the Rule of Law have funded ads encouraging Republican House members, including U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph, to speak out against the president's communication with Ukraine's president asking for an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of Ukrainian energy giant Burisma. The conservative group is led by William Kristol, the former chief of staff for former Vice President Dan Quayle.

Upton won re-election in 2018 by over 4 percentage points, the smallest margin of his career. 

Attention may begin to shift toward the U.S. Senate, where Peters and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, will be among the 100 jurors to hear the impeachment case against Trump. 

In a Wednesday statement, Stabenow suggested she would vote to impeach or oust Trump from office, which requires two-thirds support. 

“The fact is, we are where we are because of the actions of President Trump,” Stabenow said. “His behavior and abuse of power have forced the hand of everyone who cares deeply about our country, the truth and the integrity of our democracy. “ 

Peters didn't signal how he might vote in a trial. He made the same promise to focus on issues similar to those cited by Stabenow while recognizing “my constitutional responsibility in the Senate.”

“Abuse of office and obstruction of Congress are very serious charges that deserve solemn consideration,” Peters said in a Wednesday statement. “We must have a fair and non-partisan process, and I will thoroughly evaluate the facts that are presented to the Senate.”

Peters’ challenger James slammed the impeachment process in a Wednesday statement and at Trump’s Battle Creek rally, arguing that the effort is not about the rule of law but about revenge. 

"In the Senate, I would demand Congress stop working against each other and start working for the people on issues like trade, health care and immigration," James said. "This is a sad day in American history."

eleblanc@detroitnews.com