Impeachment tests 1st term House Dems like Michigan's Slotkin, Stevens
Washington – The year-old Democratic majority in the U.S. House faces its toughest test now that the chamber has locked in a vote on impeaching President Donald Trump next week.
It’s a step that many moderates in the party had hoped to avoid. The Democrats who flipped Republican seats in 2018 to give Speaker Nancy Pelosi her gavel have helped pass more than 400 pieces of legislation in the House this year. But it’s a vote on historic articles of impeachment that could define their 2020 campaigns and their political careers.
Some of Democrats who are most vulnerable next November – there are 31 who represent districts Trump carried in 2016 – headed into the weekend saying they are still undecided about how they will vote.
“What is tough for me is how divided the country is and I think we need to bring our country together,” said New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a second-term lawmaker whose district narrowly voted for Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The House Judiciary Committee on Friday recommended two articles of impeachment against Trump on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. This Wednesday, the full House will vote and is expected to make Trump only the third president to be impeached in U.S. history, further inflaming the already raw partisan divisions that have defined the past three years.
In New York, Staten Island Democrat Max Rose said that split is reflected in his district, where Trump garnered 54% of the vote but flipped from Republican control two years later.
“Some people are happy this is happening. Some people are furious that this is happening,” the first-term lawmaker said, adding that some others don’t care or aren’t paying attention. “What this is about is showing integrity and abiding by my oath the Constitution.”
On Friday, Rose announced that he would vote for impeachment.
“A president coercing a foreign government into targeting American citizens is not just another example of scorched earth politics, it serves as an invitation to the enemies of the United States,” he said.
Polls consistently show that while Trump’s approval ratings are mired at under 50%, the public is divided on impeachment and that most people have made up their minds. A FiveThirtyEight average of polls shows 47.5% of Americans support impeaching Trump and removing him from office with 45.8% not backing that position.
Michigan’s Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens, South Carolina’s Joe Cunningham, New Jersey’s Andy Kim and Mikie Sherrill, New York’s Anthony Brindisi and Oklahoma’s Kendra Horn – all first-term lawmakers elected from Trump districts in the 2018 Democratic wave – also left the Capitol for the weekend without declaring their intentions.
Slotkin said she is hearing from a lot of constituents who want her to vote no.
“There’s more people against than for. I knew that. I knew the decision to even call for an inquiry would be controversial and it has been,” Slotkin said. “I can’t make decisions solely based on some poll or some political advice for my consultant, and you just have to what you think is right based on your oath of office and sense of integrity.”
Other moderates who flipped Republican seats in the 2018 election like Elaine Luria of Virginia, Lucy McBath of Georgia and Dean Phillips of Minnesota said they had decided to back impeachment.
“If I am a one-term member of Congress who votes his conscience, who upholds his oath of office and can look back 10, 20, 30 years from now and know that I did that right thing, that allows me to sleep easy,” Phillips said.
Pelosi said she and other party leaders aren’t trying to twist arms to get a unanimous Democratic vote on impeachment.
“People have to come to their own decisions,” she said this week. ‘I don’t say anything to them.”
Vulnerable New Jersey Democrat Jeff Van Drew said he is a “no” on impeachment, but predicted that only a few others will join him.
“I wouldn’t expect a huge number,” added Van Drew, who supported censuring Trump instead.
He and Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who is the Democrat with the most pro-Trump district in Congress, both voted against moving forward with the impeachment inquiry.
Republican moderates look like they will stick with the president and uniformly opposed impeachment. New York’s Peter King, who is retiring, said it is an easy call.
“This is all part of an accumulated attack against President Trump since the election,” he said.
The GOP has seizing on the impeachment vote as a political gift heading into a 2020 election year, arguing that the way the inquiry was handled – its speed, narrow focus and partisan final vote – would be especially damaging.
“If the American people remember the partisan way that this impeachment process started and the partisan way that it finished, then I think my Democrat colleagues will face a severe backlash in those more moderate Republican-Democrat districts,” said North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows.
During the Judiciary hearings, Republican Representative Ken Buck of Colorado told his Democratic colleagues, “Say goodbye to your majority status and please join us in January of 2021 when President Trump is inaugurated again.”
The campaign arm of House Republicans and the Trump campaign are targeting vulnerable Democrats like Slotkin and Horn.
Pelosi’s response to the political threat – and pressure from Democratic moderates – is to legislate. She’s pushed forward with legislation to control drug prices and the House will be voting on spending bills for the government as well as the delayed trade agreement among the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, a member of Pelosi’s leadership team, said Democratic wins in state elections last month is a rebuttal to the narrative that impeachment is hurting his party.” To the extent that there are political concerns that people are speculating about, I would suggest perhaps we look at the results in Virginia, the results in Kentucky and the results in Louisiana,” he said.
Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Chrystal Ball website at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said it’s 11 months until the election and that is a lifetime in politics.
“For all we’re talking about impeachment now, it might not be that relevant in the fall,” he said. “Things move so fast we can’t just assume that things that seem very important now are going to matter later.”