After weeks of hearings, hyperbole, and histrionics over Ukraine-Gate, have House Democrats advanced the case for impeachment? Not only have they not moved the polling, they may have lost ground — in their own caucus. CNN’s Manu Raju caught up with the two House Democrats who voted against authorizing the inquiry to find out whether they support Nancy Pelosi’s call to advance articles of impeachment.
Not only do they remain unconvinced, a third Democrat has begun throat-clearing on potential opposition. First, let’s start with Jeff Van Drew, who went public with his opposition to the inquiry. So far, Van Drew says he’s seen nothing new, and therefore no reason to change his mind:
Van Drew warned Democrats to "be careful what you wish for" and he added that impeachment "is tearing the nation apart. … And I want to bring people together." Van Drew said he would have preferred a censure vote so they could "move on."
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) December 5, 2019
What makes this interesting is that Van Drew faces a fairly balanced constituency in New Jersey’s 2nd congressional district, with a Cook index of R+1. Trump won it in 2016, but only by less than five points, and two years later Van Drew replaced twelve-term Republican Frank LoBiondo in the seat. Van Drew has as much to lose with a vote against impeachment as he does to gain with it, so if he’s still leaning against it, he must truly have decided Democrats still haven’t made the case.
Perhaps more understandably, Minnesota’s Collin Peterson still agrees with Van Drew. Running for re-election in an R+12 district that Donald Trump won by thirty points in 2016, Peterson has been skeptical of impeachment from the beginning. Not only does he remain unconvinced, Peterson also tells Raju that he can’t figure out what it is that Pelosi and leadership are trying to accomplish:
Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the other Democrat who also opposed the inquiry, said this when I asked if he'd vote to impeach: "I don't have an idea what they're doing." And he walked on the floor.
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) December 5, 2019
One can assume that Peterson’s not going to burn down his own career in western Minnesota for Pelosi’s sake. Failing to move these two Democrats into the aye column is bad enough, but it looks as though they may lose an aye vote as well. After Pelosi announced full speed ahead on articles of impeachment, Rep. Dan Kildee told Fox’s Martha MacCallum that he conditionally supports the idea — but that he’s growing skeptical about impeachment because his constituents want him to work on their priorities rather than Beltway infighting:
Dem. Rep. Dan Kildee: My constituents want us to work on prescription drug prices, trade, and the economy.
Dems instead loaded up bipartisan drug pricing legislation with political poison pills, dragged their feet on USMCA, and held the House hostage with impeachment. pic.twitter.com/ajEAOzkbnI
— Joe Gierut (@Joe_Gierut) December 5, 2019
“Mostly I hear they want us to work on issues like the prescription drug prices and trade, and the economy,” he said. “Mostly the American people want us to work on the issues that affect them at the kitchen table every day.”
Kildee said he supports Pelosi’s decision to move forward on impeachment because he’s concerned by a few elements like Trump’s Ukraine requests and his apparent attempt to “obstruct” their investigation. But, he’ll wait to see what’s in the articles of impeachment before deciding how to vote.
“I’m really going to withhold judgment on any of that,” he said. “This is a moment we have to be very clear, but also cautious to not get ahead of ourselves. I want to see what those articles include.”
Kildee’s skepticism is notable for his constituency. Michigan’s fifth congressional district has a Cook index of D+5, and Kildee’s House seat has been solidly blue since the 1992 election. It has voted for Democrats in every presidential election since 2000. Hillary Clinton won Kildee’s district 50/46, so he’s not exactly representing MAGA Country. If Kildee is nervous about an aye vote for impeachment, that’s saying quite a bit about the perceived risks for less established House Democrats.
Until now, they did have a hint of a potential Republican vote to impeach. Francis Rooney, the second-term Florida representative who recently announced his intention to retire from his R+13 district, had warned that he might cross the aisle over Trump’s actions. Now, however, Rooney says that the “rush to judgment” — and the refusal of House Democrats to take their time and go through the courts to get access to first-hand testimony — has potentially changed his mind:
Rooney told me: “You have all these people, the John Dean types, who are in the room with the president. We ought to hear from them. That bothers me, I gotta say.”
I asked if that’s enough to consider voting against articles of impeachment?
Rooney: “It might be”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) December 5, 2019
Can Pelosi pass articles of impeachment with these four voting no? Yes, but it’s not going to look very good if the vote to impeach falls under the vote count for opening the inquiry. The clear message from that outcome would be that Adam Schiff failed to make the case, and that Jerrold Nadler’s odd exercise yesterday didn’t help at all. And if that is the case, it may create even more incentive for defections among House Democrats from Trump-friendly districts, which then makes the situation worse and sets up a vicious cycle for collapse.
As I noted in my column at The Week, Democrats have no one to blame but themselves for their credibility deficit:
Under normal circumstances and historical precedent, impeachment proceedings would have originated with Judiciary. However, this House majority made a decision to invest the investigatory authority of the Ukraine affair with the Intelligence Committee and Adam Schiff, a decision made more for the politics and optics than for jurisdictional purposes. This unusual choice only amplified the partisan bickering that began during the Russia-collusion scandal and sapped the credibility out of the preceding hearings.
Choosing Schiff, especially with his habit of making hyperbolic and occasionally unsupported public allegations about Trump, was always an odd choice. Unlike the Robert Mueller investigation, very little if any of this case had anything to do with the U.S. intelligence communities that Schiff’s panel oversees. Given that almost all of the testimony came from State Department personnel and involved diplomatic policy, it would seem the House Foreign Affairs Committee headed by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) would have been a more logical alternative if Judiciary wasn’t desirable for some reason. Not only are the committee members far more familiar with the personnel and issues involved in the dispute over Donald Trump’s handling of Ukraine, the committee had previously not featured in any other impeachment efforts and could have gone into the probe with less animosity coloring the results. At the very least, Engel and ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) would have started with a relatively clean slate and a functional working relationship.
Instead, Congress put the long-simmering feud between Schiff and Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes on center stage, in pursuit of a case that ended up eluding most Americans. Despite several weeks of public hearings and declarations that they had a case against Trump for abuse of power, obstruction, and arguably even bribery and treason, polling barely budged — and what little movement there was went in the wrong direction.
And it sounds like Jonathan Turley’s argument hit home with Rooney, at least:
Furthermore, Turley warned, a late plan to add an obstruction article over Trump’s refusal to comply with document and witness demands ran a higher risk of constitutional erosion than the case Schiff had made against Trump regarding Ukraine. House Democrats could easily have taken Trump to court to enforce the subpoenas, Turley pointed out, but chose instead to accelerate the process to get an impeachment vote concluded by the end of the year. Had Trump defied a Supreme Court order to comply, that would certainly have been an obstructive act, but seeking a legal recourse to judicial review for a dispute between the branches cannot qualify. “If you make a high crime and misdemeanor out of going to the courts,” Turley warned, “it is an abuse of power. It’s your abuse of power.”
It’s too early for whip counts, but … the early signs aren’t good — and their case won’t get any better, either.