WASHINGTON – Minnesotans in Congress, much like the rest of America, appeared evenly split Thursday as the House of Representatives prepared to advance articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.
No Minnesotans serve on the House Judiciary Committee where the action played out in a cavernous hearing room kept orderly by a heavy police presence. But a somber mood pervaded their offices around the Capitol, where the consequences are certain to reverberate in elections less than a year off.
"This is a time for some courage, and if that makes me a one-term member of Congress, then I know I can look back and know I voted on principle and to uphold my oath," said Rep. Dean Phillips, a first-term Democrat from suburban Hennepin County who plans to vote yes next week when two articles of impeachment are brought before the full House. "But it's not a time for any celebration."
Three Democrats in Minnesota's House delegation are a definite yes on impeachment: Phillips, Rep. Betty McCollum of St. Paul and Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis. The state's three Republican congressmen — Reps. Tom Emmer, Pete Stauber and Jim Hagedorn — are all a definite no.
"There's no high crimes and misdemeanors. At all," said Stauber, who represents northeastern Minnesota's Eighth District. "This is going on hearsay. The country wants us to move forward."
Hagedorn said that "when it comes to an impeachable offense, I'll say I'll know it when I see it, and so far I haven't seen it. I haven't seen it."
That leaves two Democrats, Rep. Angie Craig of southeastern Minnesota and Rep. Collin Peterson of western Minnesota, still undecided. Craig voted to open the impeachment inquiry, while Peterson voted against it. In contrast to the other three Democrats, Craig and Peterson both represent districts that Trump carried in the 2016 election — Craig's by a little, Peterson's by a lot.
Both have been targeted by Republicans and allied groups.
"What I've asked for is the time and opportunity, given the serious nature of this, to sit with the articles of impeachment this weekend, along with the House Intelligence Committee report, and then I'll make a final decision," Craig said. "But I've said from the start, when I supported the impeachment inquiry, that from my perspective no one is above the law."
Peterson, who represents a conservative rural district, said he's leaning against voting for impeachment.
"I don't condone what the president did," Peterson said. "But at the beginning of this thing they said they were going to have bipartisan support or not move ahead. There's no bipartisan support. It's just going to further divide the country."
Peterson, first elected in 1990, is the only member of Minnesota's delegation who was in Congress the last time this happened. That was in 1998, when the Republican-controlled House impeached President Bill Clinton. That time, the conservative Democrat voted in favor of an impeachment inquiry but against the actual articles of impeachment. He also voted against the impeachment inquiry into Trump earlier this fall.
"They went off on a fishing expedition against Clinton and I ended up regretting that vote [for the Clinton inquiry]," Peterson said. "I think we have a significant number of people in our caucus who made up their mind about Trump long ago and were just looking for any way to impeach him. This is not good for the country."
Movement toward the third impeachment of a U.S. president in history got underway amid the solemnity of a hearing room in the Longworth Office Building, where lawmakers were expected to vote along party lines to charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress arising from his disputed dealings with Ukraine.
Heavy blue curtains, plush blue carpets and a high domed ceiling helped muffle the partisan rancor. Despite the high feelings, no protests raged outside. A few people in "Make America Great Again" caps sat quietly watching.
Presuming House Democrats have the votes to impeach Trump, the next step would be a trial in the Senate, followed by a vote on whether or not to remove Trump from office. That would require a two-thirds Senate majority, considered unlikely because it would require at least 20 Republicans to vote to oust the de facto leader of their party.
Minnesota's two U.S. senators, Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, both have been critical of Trump's actions with regard to Ukraine. But both also have vowed to reserve judgment. Like all their colleagues, they would be considered jurors in the Senate proceeding.
"I think there has been significant evidence presented in the House about how the president used his position to encourage a foreign country to interfere in our elections," Smith said. "I think it's important to preserve a space to look at all the information," she continued. "We live in such a hyperpolitical world. To me, this has to be a moment to calm down."
Klobuchar, running for president, has also stopped short of saying she'd vote to remove Trump. But she has said in multiple interviews that she believes Trump has committed impeachable offenses.
'They all do it'
Just down from Capitol Hill at Washington's Union Station, two Minnesota tourists were buying tickets on Thursday morning for a tour of the city's historical monuments. Jay and Jody Sutherland, of Watertown, expressed weariness of the proceedings, saying they had little interest in peeking in.
Jay Sutherland, recognizable as a Minnesotan thanks to his purple Vikings jacket, dismissed the process with an expletive. His wife laughed and admonished him for his language. He went on: "You can't tell me there's been a U.S. president in history who didn't do something at some point that wasn't worthy of impeachment. They all do it."
Jody Sutherland wasn't so sure.
"I see why the Democrats are doing it, I do," she said. "But I'm worried about what it's going to cost."