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 this week.
It’s a step 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 the Democrats who are most vulnerable in November — there are 31 who represent districts Trump carried in 2016 — headed into the weekend saying they are still undecided.
“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 Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The House Judiciary Committee on Friday recommended two articles of impeachment against Trump. On Wednesday, the full House is expected to vote to make Trump only the third president to be impeached in U.S. history, further inflaming the already raw partisan divisions.
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 GOP 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 to 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 2018 — 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 … you just have to do what you think is right based on your oath of office and sense of integrity.”
Other moderates who flipped GOP 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.
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.
Vulnerable New Jersey Democrat Jeff Van Drew, who is a “no” on impeachment, told aides Saturday that he is planning to switch parties and declare himself a Republican as soon as next week, the New York Times reported.
At a White House meeting Friday, Van Drew sought Trump’s blessing for the move, which could be critical to his ability to avoid a primary challenge next year, and the president urged him to make the jump, according to two Democrats and one Republican who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
He and Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, a Democrat in a heavily pro-Trump district, both voted against moving forward with the impeachment inquiry.
Last month, Van Drew vowed that he would remain a Democrat. “I am absolutely not changing,” he said, stating his lifelong position as a moderate Democrat.
But conversations between Van Drew and top Trump advisers intensified in recent days, the Times reported, with the lawmaker making it clear that he was nervous about losing his seat, either in a primary or the general election.
GOP moderates look like they will stick with Trump and uniformly oppose 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 seized 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 Rep. 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.”
Pelosi’s response to the political threat — and pressure from Democratic moderates — is to legislate. She’s pushed forward with bills 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.