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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 TrumpTrump: McConnell 'helpless' to stop Biden from packing court Romney on NRSC awarding Trump: Not 'my preference' McConnell sidesteps Trump calling him 'dumb son of a b----' 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 Nadler10 Democrats join NAACP lawsuit against Trump On The Trail: How marijuana went mainstream House passes bills providing citizenship path for Dreamers, farmworkers 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 DelgadoCuomo job approval drops 6 points amid nursing home controversy: poll Cuomo takes heat from all sides on nursing home scandal We lost in November — we're proud we didn't take corporate PAC money 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 CunninghamLobbying world We lost in November — we're proud we didn't take corporate PAC money Chamber of Commerce slams GOP effort to challenge Biden's win MORE (D-S.C.), Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinDemocrats move smaller immigration bills while eyeing broad overhaul On The Money: Biden celebrates relief bill with Democratic leaders | Democrats debate fast-track for infrastructure package Democrats debate fast-track for infrastructure package MORE (D-Mich.) and Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerOn The Money: Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan | Democrats debate tax hikes on wealthy | Biden, Congress target semiconductor shortage Gun control advocates applaud Biden funding plan but say more must be done Trump the X-factor in Virginia governor race MORE (D-Va.) as well as Rep. Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightSix ways to visualize a divided America Will Biden continue NASA's Artemis program to return to the moon? House Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress 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 Peterson Progressives fight for leverage amid ever-slimming majority Six ways to visualize a divided America On The Trail: The political losers of 2020 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 BookerThe first Southern state legalizes marijuana — what it means nationally Top Democrat calling for expansion of child care support When it comes to the Iran nuclear deal, what's a moderate Democrat to do? 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 DrewSunday shows preview: Biden administration grapples with border surge; US mourns Atlanta shooting victims Pro-union bill passes House, setting up lobbying battle in Senate Van Drew, after flipping parties, bashes bills he once backed 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 TakanoUS tensions with China risk fueling anti-Asian harassment at home Democrats rush to Biden's defense on border surge K Street navigates virtual inauguration week 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.”