The Slatest

House Democrats Unify on Eve of Impeachment Vote

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks at the U.S. Capitol on December 17, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks at the U.S. Capitol on December 17, 2019 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On Monday afternoon, South Carolina Rep. Joe Cunningham told local media that he would vote to impeach President Trump, saying that “for the president to withhold that [Ukrainian aid] to curry a personal and political favor that would help his reelection at the expense of America, I just find that something that all of us must stand against.” Around the same time, Utah Rep. Ben McAdams announced, similarly, that he would also vote to impeach the president, who “abused the power of his office by demanding a foreign government perform a personal favor.” The two were followed by an announcement on Tuesday from Oklahoma Rep. Kendra Horn, who said that her oath “to protect and defend the Constitution requires a vote for impeachment.”

The importance of the announcements from Cunningham, McAdams, and Horn, specifically, though, is best captured by the Cook Partisan Voting Index of their districts: R+10, R+13, and R+10. These are the three most conservative districts that Democrats flipped in the 2018 elections. If they were able to suck it up and vote for impeachment, there was no excuse for anyone else to change their minds because the politics are too uncomfortable.

And sure enough, vulnerable Democrats were falling in line behind impeachment with remarkably little hesitation on Tuesday.

In addition to Horn, Cunningham, and McAdams, Democrats who came out in favor of impeachment included Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger (R+6), Michigan Rep. Haley Stevens (R+4), Illinois Rep. Lauren Underwood (R+5), New Mexico Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (R+6), and New York Rep. Anthony Brindisi (R+6), to name a few. Late Tuesday afternoon, the last endangered freshman “frontline” member, Maine Rep. Jared Golden (R+2), announced he would split his vote and impeach Trump for abuse of power, but not for obstruction of Congress. One outstanding “Trump-district” veteran, Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind, was still deciding. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was weighing her options in typically mysterious ways, too.

Whereas Democrats were expecting last week to lose potentially a half-dozen members on impeachment, it’s now possible that they suffer fewer defections than they did on the October vote that established rules for the impeachment inquiry. On that, they lost two Democrats: Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, a longtime member who represents an R+12 district that Trump won by 30 points, and New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew. With Van Drew in the process of transitioning into a Republican, Democrats could just lose Peterson. And even he hasn’t ruled out voting for impeachment entirely.

There are a couple of important reasons why these Democrats, even if they are terrified out of their minds, wouldn’t help themselves much even if they did vote against impeachment.

First, as Van Drew’s ugly internal polling that was shared with media outlets showed, opposing impeachment isn’t something the Democratic base, in any district, would just let slide as if it were some policy dispute about international shipping lanes. Support for impeaching Trump is a top priority for Democrats, and opposition to it is a base-loser that invites serious primary competition.

Second, these Democrats have already voted for the impeachment inquiry rules. It does not take a particularly active imagination to recognize that Republican opponents would ignore certain nuances and call that October vote a “vote for impeachment.” With that twistable vote already on the record, members might as well vote the way they want to, and the way that they found to be backed up by the facts. Voting based on conviction can seem unusual around Congress. But sometimes, it beats being cute.

“The greatest protection these members will have, all members will have,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday, “is that they vote their conviction and the Constitution, not the politics.” Hoyer reiterated multiple times, too, that “nobody has been whipped on this issue”—not from him, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or Majority Whip James Clyburn.

That doesn’t mean that they’re not keeping tabs, or that they have no interest in projecting a show of unity to counter that of the House Republicans, zero of whom are expected to vote for either impeachment article on Wednesday. Each side will go down together. And if Democrats can’t get a read on how they’ll fare in the 2020 elections, they can at least be sure to get it right for history.