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GOP claims vindication, but Van Drew decision doesn't spark defections

GOP claims vindication, but Van Drew decision doesn't spark defections
© Greg Nash

Democratic Rep. Jefferson Van Drew's expected decision to join the GOP over the divisive impeachment issue has roiled New Jersey and Washington and left both parties claiming vindication ahead of Wednesday’s historic House vote to make President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE just the third commander in chief to be impeached.

Republicans quickly pounced, arguing that Van Drew's defection is evidence that Democrats, pressured by “radical” liberal activists, have overreached in taking the drastic step of impeaching Trump over his dealings with Ukraine. They’re warning of a bloodbath at the polls next year for other vulnerable Democrats who decide to back impeachment this week.  

Yet Democrats, far from dodging the embarrassing episode, are instead leaning in, noting that the heavy pressure on Van Drew was coming not from conservatives in his swing district but from liberals up in arms that the freshman lawmaker was ready to buck the party and oppose the impeachment articles.  

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“What he's reacting to is public polling that shows he can't get renominated,” Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerTop Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon Democratic impeachment leaders blast Trump's pardon of Flynn Democrats accuse GSA of undermining national security by not certifying Biden win MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in an interview Sunday with ABC's “This Week” program. 

Internal polling, shared with The Hill and many other news outlets, showed that because of his anti-impeachment stance, Van Drew was in serious jeopardy of losing his Democratic primary. The poll revealed that just 28 percent of Democratic voters wanted Van Drew renominated to his House seat; 58 percent wanted another Democrat to be nominated.  

In deciding to vote against impeachment and switch parties, Van Drew, who huddled with Trump on Friday, appeared to be betting his best shot to continue his congressional career was running in a GOP primary and then a general election in South Jersey as an anti-impeachment Republican, not a pro-impeachment Democrat. 

It’s unclear whether the Van Drew episode will factor into the impeachment decision facing the other 30 vulnerable Democrats representing districts Trump won in 2016, most of whom are now being targeted by Republicans with anti-impeachment-based attack ads. More than 40 Democrats still have not announced how they’ll vote for the impeachment articles on Wednesday.

But if Republicans thought it would prompt a wave of defections, just the opposite has happened thus far. On Sunday, freshman Rep. Antonio DelgadoAntonio Ramon DelgadoMaloney vows to overhaul a House Democratic campaign machine 'stuck in the past' Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day Next Congress expected to have record diversity MORE (D-N.Y.) said he was jumping on the impeachment train, followed on Monday by fellow freshman Reps. Ben McAdams (D-Utah), Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamGOP Rep. Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19 Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter tests positive for coronavirus Bustos tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-S.C.), Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinBickering Democrats return with divisions Questions swirl at Pentagon after wave of departures Overnight Defense: Another Defense official resigns | Pentagon chief says military 'remains strong' despite purge | Top contender for Biden DOD secretary would be historic pick MORE (D-Mich.) and Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerDivided citizenry and government — a call to action for common ground House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally Bickering Democrats return with divisions MORE (D-Va.) as well as Rep. Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightHouse Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress Democrats to determine leaders after disappointing election The Hill's Campaign Newsletter: Election Day – Part 4 MORE (D-Pa.), a four-term member of leadership.

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“The evidence for me is clear: The president abused the power of his office by demanding a foreign government perform a personal favor. He obstructed Congress and its constitutional duty of oversight by withholding pertinent documents and central witnesses,” McAdams told Utah reporters without taking any questions. “His actions weakened our country and the checks and balances enshrined in our founding documents.”

So far, only one other Democrat, Rep. Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonA louder voice for women everywhere Former Minnesota Democratic leader quits party GOP sees path to House majority in 2022 MORE (D-Minn.), appears likely to join Van Drew in opposing impeachment. As a 15-term legislator and chairman of the influential Agriculture Committee, Peterson has good name ID in his district, but Trump won it by 30 points in 2016. 

Peterson and Van Drew were the only Democrats to vote against a resolution creating the rules underlying the impeachment inquiry. 

In an interview with a local radio station, Peterson said that he too had been approached about joining the GOP but had rebuffed those offers. 

“I'm staying in the party, in spite of some of the stuff that's going on that I don't agree with. I am not going switch parties at this stage of my career,” Peterson, 75, told KFGO on Monday. “There have been overtures by the highest levels of the Republican Party in the last couple weeks to ask if I would consider it, and I told them no.” 

In the Garden State, top Democrats slammed Van Drew’s party switch, which quickly prompted six of his senior staffers to resign in protest

Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerSenate Democrats reelect Schumer as leader by acclamation  Hill associations push for more diversity in lawmakers' staffs Sanders celebrates Biden-Harris victory: 'Thank God democracy won out' MORE (D-N.J.), whom Van Drew had endorsed for president, called on his supporters to donate money to oust Van Drew from office. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) called it a “cynical and desperate” ploy to hang on to power: “Jeff Van DrewJeff Van DrewThe Hill's Campaign Newsletter: Election Day – Part 4 Van Drew fends off challenge from Kennedy after party switch Chamber-endorsed Dems struggle on election night MORE has chosen his political career over our Constitution.” 

Regardless of what happens to the 16-year state legislator, Republicans have increased their odds of keeping the seat if Van Drew follows through and switches parties. The Cook Political Report on Monday changed the rating of his moderate 2nd Congressional District race from “toss up” to “lean Republican. 

Van Drew will bank on an assist from Trump to win the GOP primary and then will hope Democrats nominate a candidate general election voters deem too liberal for the district. It backed Trump in 2016 after voting for former President Obama in 2008 and 2012. It was previously held by a Republican, former Rep. Frank LoBiondoFrank Alo LoBiondoVan Drew-Kennedy race in NJ goes down to the wire Van Drew wins GOP primary in New Jersey Amy Kennedy wins NJ primary to face GOP's Van Drew MORE, who served 12 terms before retiring at the end of the last Congress. Democrat Brigid Harrison, a political science professor, officially jumped into the race on Monday, and more challengers are expected. 

Rep. Mark TakanoMark Allan TakanoOvernight Defense: National Guard says no federal requests for election security help | Dems accuse VA head of misusing resources | Army official links COVID-19 to troop suicides Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Democrats accuse VA head of misusing resources to stump for Trump, vulnerable GOP senators MORE (D-Calif.), who had helped Van Drew’s campaign in 2018, said Democrats were “surprised and upset” upon hearing the news of his defection over the weekend. But he predicted Van Drew will be an anomaly, as Democrats are lining up in support of the articles — even those lawmakers who face dire political risks in doing so. 

“I definitely don't see it as a harbinger of things to come,” Takano said Monday. “There are people who are really voting their conscience, and I just think that Jeff has a different value orientation.”