Anti-impeachment Democrat poised to switch parties

Freshman Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (D-N.J.), a vocal opponent of impeachment, plans to switch parties and join the GOP after meeting with President TrumpDonald John TrumpMnuchin knocks Greta Thunberg's activism: Study economics and then 'come back' to us The Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial MORE on Friday, Democratic sources told The Hill. 

Van Drew has begun informing his staff and fellow New Jersey lawmakers that he will leave the Democratic Party, according to two Democratic senior aides. His decision, first reported by The Washington Post, comes just a day after he had a lengthy meeting at the White House with Trump. 

A former dentist, Van Drew replaced former Rep. Frank LoBiondoFrank Alo LoBiondo Democratic challenger on Van Drew's party switch: 'He betrayed our community' Trump announces Van Drew will become a Republican in Oval Office meeting Van Drew, set to switch parties, will vote as a Democrat on impeachment MORE (R-N.J.), who served 12 terms before retiring at the end of the last Congress. Adopting the historically red district, Van Drew moved quickly to distance himself from the liberal wing of the House Democratic Caucus, voting “present” during the election of Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSekulow indicates White House not interested in motion to dismiss impeachment articles Overnight Health Care: Trump restores funding for Texas program that bars Planned Parenthood | Trump to attend March for Life | PhRMA spent record on 2019 lobbying Key House committee chairman to meet with Mnuchin on infrastructure next week MORE (D-Calif.) for Speaker in January and joining the conservative-leaning Blue Dog Democrats shortly thereafter.

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In October, he was one of just two House Democrats to vote against the package of rules governing the impeachment process — the other was Rep. Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonThe Hill's Morning Report - Dems to lay out impeachment case to senators next week House delivers impeachment articles to Senate Overnight Defense: Foreign policy takes center stage at Democratic debate | House delivers impeachment articles to Senate | Dems vow to force new vote on Trump's border wall MORE (D-Minn.) — and he has vowed since then to oppose any impeachment articles that come to the floor related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Van Drew has cited two central reasons for his opposition to impeachment. First, he said Trump’s handling of foreign policy in Kyiv does not merit his removal.

"An article of impeachment is a very specific, very serious action, literally akin to declaring war, because you're disenfranchising voters," Van Drew told reporters earlier in the week. "So some folks ... may not like the people that voted for Trump, but they still voted. So millions of those folks would be disenfranchised."

Second, he voiced concerns that if the Senate declines to remove the president, as expected, Trump would use that acquittal as ammunition on the campaign trail to target Democrats up and down the ballot.

“All of this, at the end of the day, is not going to matter. Because … it’s going to go to the Senate, and at the end of the day the Senate’s going to say he’s not guilty,” he said. “Then he is going to speak about that — a lot.” 

Van Drew, an eccentric former state lawmaker known on Capitol Hill for wearing flashy suits, had swatted down rumors earlier in the week that he was considering leaving the Democratic Party. 

“There’s rumors going around about everything. I’ve had so many rumors over the years about all kinds of crazy things,” he told reporters just off the House floor. “It’s not [true]. I’m just doing what I’m doing. I’m still a Democrat, right here.”

But Democrats’ aggressive push to impeach Trump — a vote is expected on Wednesday on impeachment articles — had frustrated Van Drew. 

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Democrats said Van Drew’s decision came after he saw jarring results from an internal poll showing that primary voters in his district had soured on him and his anti-impeachment position. Fifty-eight percent of Democrats said they wanted to nominate someone else for the seat in 2020, while only 28 percent said Van Drew should be renominated, according to a copy of the poll shown to The Hill. 

The internal survey, conducted by TargetSmart from Dec. 7 to Dec. 11, also asked how Democrats would respond if Van Drew voted no on impeachment. More than 70 percent of Democrats said they would be less likely to support him, compared to 22 percent who said they would back him.

“He’s an NRA favorite. He’s passed no meaningful legislation, he’s raised no money and his own polling shows he has no chance in the election,” said a senior Democratic source. “This has nothing to do with impeachment and everything to do with a politician who hasn’t delivered for his constituents.”

Updated: 5:18 p.m.