Congress

As impeachment vote approaches, Democrats busy talking about other things

Amid policy discussions, Democrats praise colleagues for principled positions on impeachment

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., talks to reporters after Tuesday’sa meeting of the House Democratic Caucus in the Capitol, where impeachment was barely discussed. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

It’s the day before the House votes to impeach a president for just the third time in history, so naturally one would expect Democrats leading the effort to be talking about the coming vote.

Instead, the Democratic Caucus spent most of their weekly meeting Tuesday talking about the two massive appropriations packages that were unveiled Monday evening, along with a host of other policy priorities they’re trying to get done before the end of the year. 

“We’re not living in normal times, but it does feel very good to be simultaneously standing up for the rule of law and holding the president accountable, while at the same time passing a budget to keep the government open, agreeing on a landmark trade agreement ... passing a defense bill, hopefully moving on to other issues that are important to my state like restoring the state local tax deductions,” New Jersey freshman Rep. Tom Malinowski said. “There’s a lot going on that answers the mail in terms of what people send us here to do. And we’re taking a necessary and principled vote on impeachment.”

Freshman Rep. Elissa Slotkin called the flurry of year-end activity “an accelerated course of study on how to be a legislator.”

“So much of this is about learning how to do basically two major jobs, legislate and put forward ... legislation that helps your constituents and then doing constituent services to help people, you know, deal with the federal government,” the Michigan Democrat said. “And to me, impeachment has been a major issue. But by no means the biggest thing that’s taught me how to be a legislator.”

Slotkin is one of several Democrats from districts President Donald Trump won in 2016 that come out in support of the articles of impeachment in recent days. She announced her decision in an op-ed Monday ahead of a town hall where she received criticism from Trump supporters for her decision but praise from other constituents. 

[Facing pro-Trump chants, Elissa Slotkin explains support for impeachment]

“Principle is unifying and I think we’re seeing it play out in pretty dramatic fashion,” Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips said of his fellow moderate and freshman colleagues.

‘A conscience vote’

Speaker Nancy Pelosi did briefly address the coming impeachment vote during the caucus discussion Tuesday.

“Her message is what it has been all along, which is this is a conscience vote and you do what you do what you think is right,” Rep. Jim Himes told reporters. “There was lots of appreciation of the moderates in the caucus who have sort of taken an unusual lead in this, politically speaking.”

Asked if Pelosi expressed confidence she has the votes to impeach, Himes said she didn’t need to.

“She has the votes to impeach,” he said.

While that has been clear for weeks now, Democrats were still expecting some party defections. But the expectation that number would be more than Reps. Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, the two Democrats who voted against the impeachment inquiry procedures in October, has largely dwindled. Democrats from the districts Trump won with the highest margins, like Reps. Anthony Brindisi of New York and Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, have announced their support for the articles.

“We have real patriots here,” Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Pramila Jayapal said. “I mean, people who are in very tough districts and are standing up for what they know to be the facts and what they know to be the obligation they have to the oath that they’ve taken.”

Democratic Caucus Vice Chairwoman Katherine M. Clark  told reporters she admires the unity the caucus is showing despite impeachment being a tough vote.

“It may not be politically expedient. It may not be easy,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. “We don’t know how this may or may not affect the 2020 elections but we know this: We have this opportunity in the history of our country to stand up, defend our Constitution and send a clear message not only to this president but to every president in the future that we are a co-equal branch of government that is going to insist that no one is above the law.”

‘Anchored in principle’

Democratic leaders have not whipped the impeachment vote, allowing members to reach their positions on their own. 

“It’s the most solemn undertaking that any member of Congress can have as it relates to our responsibility as a separate and coequal branch of government — the ultimate form of accountability when a president like Donald Trump has gone rogue, ” said New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the caucus chairman and a member of the Judiciary panel that reported out the articles last week. “Every single member’s going to have to make that decision, as they have been doing, anchored in principle.”

With Democrats almost unanimously backing Trump’s impeachment, there was little unease ahead of the vote. The only grievance Democrats raised was that Republicans were not planning to join them in voting their conscience. 

“What most Democrats are feeling is just a little bit of bewilderment that the Republican Party has given itself over entirely to being a cult in support of the president,” Himes said.

The impeachment vote should be bipartisan, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said. 

The Maryland Democrat answered bluntly when asked why it won’t be: “Because I think the Republicans are totally focused on their politics and fear of Trump. That’s why.”

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