Democrat who opposed Trump, Clinton impeachment inquiries faces big test

Democrat who opposed Trump, Clinton impeachment inquiries faces big test
© Greg Nash

Rep. Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonSNAP, airlines among final hurdles to coronavirus stimulus deal Pelosi: House 'not prepared' to vote remotely on coronavirus relief bill Lone Democrat to oppose impeachment will seek reelection MORE (D-Minn.) is the only House Democrat who voted against the impeachment inquiry against President TrumpDonald John TrumpHealth insurers Cigna, Humana waive out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus treatment Puerto Rico needs more federal help to combat COVID-19 Fauci says April 30 extension is 'a wise and prudent decision' MORE and in favor of launching the inquiry against President Clinton.

The unusual voting record largely reflects the nature of Peterson’s conservative district, which he’s held despite repeated GOP challenges since he first won election in 1990. Republicans again will try to knock out Peterson in next year’s election — should he decide to run for a 16th term.

In fact, the GOP is already using impeachment to go after Peterson — despite his vote against the inquiry.

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The conservative American Action Network accused Peterson of “allowing the endless partisan investigations to continue” in an ad that features him with clips of liberal Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOvernight Energy: Court upholds Trump repeal of Obama fracking rule | Oil price drop threatens fracking boom | EPA eases rules on gasoline sales amid coronavirus Ocasio-Cortez blasts coronavirus stimulus package as 'shameful' on House floor Oil price drop threatens US fracking boom MORE (D-N.Y.), Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump's war against coronavirus Graham: Pelosi comment on Trump is 'most shameful, disgusting statement by any politician in modern history' The coronavirus pandemic versus the climate change emergency MORE (D-Calif.) and House Intelligence Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffCoronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner Texas man arrested for allegedly threatening Democrats over coronavirus bill Schiff: Remote voting would not compromise national security MORE (D-Calif.). 

It’s not entirely clear how Peterson will vote on articles of impeachment against Trump.

In 1998, Peterson voted against impeaching Clinton even after he voted for the inquiry. But those impeachment votes came after the 1998 midterms, when popular opinion had already largely turned against the House Republican impeachment push.

This time Peterson will be voting less than a year before voters go to the polls, and Republicans think they may finally have a chance to take back a district that was last in their hands before Peterson’s first victory nearly three decades ago.

“For [Republicans] that have been supporters of him, to see what's happening within the Democratic party, from their perspective it’s not really good enough that he’s just this maverick occasionally,” said Minnesota GOP strategist Gregg Peppin, previewing an argument other Republicans are likely to make against Peterson. “He can’t stand up to the direction the party is going.” 

Peterson’s office declined to comment for this story, but in a statement after his vote against the impeachment inquiry in, he called the impeachment process “hopelessly partisan” and reiterated GOP concerns over the closed-door depositions that preceded it.

“Without support from Senate Republicans, going down this path is a mistake,” he said. “Today’s vote is both unnecessary, and widely misrepresented in the media and by Republicans as a vote on impeachment. I will not make a decision on impeachment until all the facts have been presented.”

Since then, Democrats have pushed forward with the inquiry, with Pelosi announcing Thursday that she asked House chairmen leading the probe to proceed with articles of impeachment. 

Peterson and Rep. Jeff Van DrewJeff Van DrewHispanic Caucus campaign arm unveils non-Hispanic endorsements Lone Democrat to oppose impeachment will seek reelection DCCC targets House GOP members over Trump administration response to coronavirus MORE (D-N.J.) were the only Democrats to vote against the inquiry. Van Drew on Friday indicated he was likely to vote against articles of impeachment.

Judiciary Democrats may write up those articles as soon as next week. While there are differences within the caucus over how many articles to write, they are expected to include charges of abuse of power and obstruction of justice.

House Democratic leaders say they will not be whipping members on an impeachment vote.

“[House Majority Leader Steny] Hoyer told Members this morning at the Whip meeting that we will not be whipping an impeachment vote and that every Member should vote their conscience and their district,” Hoyer spokeswoman Mariel Saez said Thursday.

Peterson is the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, a powerful position that has allowed him to deliver for a largely rural district. This has also helped him fend off Republican challenges in the past, said Kathryn Pearson, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota. 

But impeachment could be a tougher hurdle. Trump won Peterson’s district in 2016 by 31 points over Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden tops Trump by 9 points in Fox News poll With VP pick, Biden can't play small ball in a long ball world Hillary Clinton on US leading in coronavirus cases: Trump 'did promise "America First"' MORE.

Peppin, the GOP strategist, said Peterson’s district and Minnesota in general are catching the trend across the country in which voters prioritize party labels over a candidate’s individual identity.

“Now it really is the case where the parties are defined by their national leader,” he said.

In 2018, a number of Republicans representing suburban districts were pushed out by voters who wanted to punish Trump. Republicans think Peterson’s district may punish him if Democrats in the House impeach Trump.

A Democratic operative familiar with the race said the congressman and campaign will “be aggressive in setting the record straight.” The operative also dismissed the influence that ads spreading “misinformation” about Peterson’s stance on impeachment will have on voters. 

“This is such a high-profile issue I think organically people are going to pay attention [to] this in a way they don’t pay attention to any other vote,” the operative said. “I think this is a tougher place for a Republican to try and mischaracterize his stance because this is such a high profile, hot button issue. “

Peterson has yet to say if he will seek reelection. The Democratic operative said that Peterson typically doesn’t announce until the year of the election.

Rep. Pete KingPeter (Pete) KingJohn Kerry: GOP lawmaker against coronavirus package 'tested positive for being an ---hole' Lawmakers highlight flights back to DC for huge coronavirus vote Trump flexes pardon power with high-profile clemencies MORE (R-N.Y.) is the other current House lawmaker who voted against both the Trump and Clinton impeachment inquiries. He said last month he would not seek reelection. 

If Peterson doesn’t run, the GOP will be heavily favored to win Peterson’s district.

Republicans won’t officially have a candidate until the Aug. 11 primary, but Former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fishbach (R) has emerged as a strong contender.

Fishbach was encouraged to run by National Republican Campaign Committee Chairman Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerHouse Democratic campaign arm outraises GOP counterpart in February How campaigns are adapting to coronavirus Dems unlikely to subpoena Bolton MORE, a Minnesota congressman himself. She has been endorsed by top figures in her party including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyMcCarthy says fourth stimulus bill might not be necessary Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers, state governors talk coronavirus, stimulus package and resources as pandemic rages on Lysol, disinfecting wipes and face masks mark coronavirus vote in House MORE (R-Calif,.). The Cook Political Report moved the race from “Lean Democratic” to “Toss Up” after Fishbach launched her bid. 

The impeachment battle will play a big part in a potential Peterson defeat, but other votes the Democrat has cast against the Trump agenda, including opposing border wall funding, could also be factors.

“There’s no room for Colin Peterson in Congress anymore,” NRCC spokeswoman Carly Atchison said of the Blue Dog Democrat, a caucus of centrist Democrats that has focused on fiscal responsibility.

“Peterson is the last of a dying breed,” she said. 

Democrats aren’t so sure, noting that GOP attacks have bounced off Peterson for 30 years.

“They’ve called him a liberal. They said he’s ‘gone D.C.’ And he keeps winning elections,” the Democratic operative said. “It’s not as if he hasn't taken some punches, it’s not as if Republicans haven't come after him in the past. Republicans [have] tried to label him as something he’s not and voters know him.”

Pearson said Peterson is at least used to the scrutiny.

“He has a long record of an independent streak. I suspect he will do what he wants to do regardless of his plans to run for reelection or not,” she said. “He is someone who is used to votes against this party and used to taking tough votes that he has to explain to his constituents back home.”

Updated: An earlier version of this story described the Blue Dog Democrats as having shrunk in numbers. While their numbers had decreased during a portion of Peterson’s tenure, they have increased their numbers since 2016.