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House Democrats maintain united front as impeachment vote looms

With few defections expected, Democrats are poised to pass articles of impeachment this week.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi exits after her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill December 12, 2019 in Washington, DC, where she fielded multiple questions about the impeachment inquiry.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

House Democrats will vote on two articles of impeachment on Wednesday — and while a small set of moderates are expected to defect, the caucus is looking relatively united.

The House vote will center on two articles the House Judiciary Committee passed Friday. Both are effectively “charges” that are being levied against President Donald Trump, and they focus on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

At this point, there’s strong backing for both articles across the Democratic caucus — though a handful of lawmakers are expected to defect, much like Reps. Jeff Van Drew (NJ) and Collin Peterson (MN) did when they bucked the party on an impeachment resolution earlier this year. Van Drew went even further this week, per reports he plans to switch to the Republican Party to help him weather a tough reelection race and avoid a possibly competitive Democratic primary.

As the rules go, Democrats will need a simple majority in order to pass both articles of impeachment. Since the House currently has 431 members, the party will have to secure 216 votes. If the 233 Democrats in the House mostly vote in favor, they’ll have the numbers required to impeach the president.

“I think the caucus is overwhelmingly unified, that doesn’t make it unanimous,” Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) told Vox last week. “I think the overwhelming sentiment is that this is serious, that this is a complete abuse of power.”

Van Drew hypothesized to reporters last week that he and Peterson could be among a small group of no more than five Democrats who’ll go against the party. Of course, that group will get a little smaller when Van Drew becomes a Republican. As a Politico report detailed last week, there was a contingent of roughly 10 moderates who’d floated the idea of censuring Trump instead of impeaching him — but that effort has since fizzled.

Late last week and this weekend, a number of moderate Democrats including Reps. Elaine Luria (D-VA), Elissa Slotkin (MI), Jason Crow (CO), and Max Rose (NY) have said they’d vote for impeachment.

“I am supportive of the two articles of impeachment, and I’m also pleased it was kept narrow,” Luria told reporters outside the House floor on Thursday.

So far, Democratic leadership hasn’t actively discouraged wary moderates from voting their conscience, even if that means voting against articles of impeachment.

“I have no message to them, we are not whipping this legislation,” Pelosi told reporters last week. “Nor do we ever whip something like this. People have to come to their own conclusions. ... I don’t say anything to them.”

By and large, of the 10 Democrats Vox spoke with, the majority didn’t expect to see significant fracturing within the caucus when the vote takes place. While Democrats were once heavily divided on this subject, the narrow inquiry into President Trump’s conduct with Ukraine — and the evidence it has unearthed — appear to have brought many of them together.

“Solid. It’s solid,” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) told Vox regarding the support for impeachment. “It’s not being whipped, it’s everyone’s conscience on this vote.”

Some moderates were still making up their minds about the articles of impeachment — until this week

If there’s anyone who was still sussing out their position on the articles of impeachment until very recently, it’s the same set of lawmakers that had balked at the start of the inquiry.

With Van Drew switching parties, Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson is the only Democrat who has suggested he’ll vote against articles of impeachment. He told Minnesota Public Radio he’d vote no “unless they come up with something between now and Wednesday.”

In the last few days, however, more Democrats from battleground districts have signaled that they’ll vote in favor of articles of impeachment. Three first-term Democrats from competitive frontline districts told Vox on Thursday they had made up their minds to vote in favor of impeachment before this week.

Luria, a Navy veteran who defeated an incumbent Republican in her Virginia Beach district in 2018, told Vox she felt confident in her vote after viewing weeks of House Intelligence and Judiciary Committee hearings.

“That reconfirmed what I had thought about what was being investigated. We had numerous public servants ... who spoke in a nonpartisan way and were truly there to represent our country overseas but felt that this aid was being leveraged, this situation was not right, that the president was unduly using the influence of his office to get an outcome that he wanted,” Luria said.

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ) added that she had decided to impeach Trump after reading special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, well before the Ukraine scandal had happened.

“I’m a former prosecutor and I just reached the point where I said, as a prosecutor if I had gotten a report like this, I probably would have issued 15 different charges,” Kirkpatrick said. “That’s when I called for impeachment.”

And Rep. Harley Rouda, another first-term Democrat who beat longtime California Republican lawmaker Dana Rohrabacher in 2018, said that Trump’s persistent stonewalling of congressional subpoenas was the first thing that made him lean toward the impeachment inquiry. Ukraine confirmed that inclination, Rouda added.

“The Ukrainian situation is something that’s even more serious in nature by this president and the administration and what we have seen transpire prior thereto,” he told Vox. “While many of those other things were certainly impeachable conduct, this is way beyond the norm.”

The House vote is Democrats’ last big chance to send a message before the Senate takes over impeachment

Democratic unity on the impeachment vote is incredibly important for the party to send a decisive message about removing the president from office. The shift the caucus has made in the past year — from a fraction of Democrats backing an impeachment inquiry to almost all of them — has been significant, and the numbers the party sees at this week’s votes will underscore the strength of their case.

Moderate Democrats have long been the contingent of the party that’s been more reserved about the impeachment inquiry, and the prospect of removing the president from office.

For many who won in Trump districts in 2018, part of this reluctance is likely tied to constituent sentiment: According to an October memo from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the margins of support for the impeachment inquiry were much closer in battleground areas. Polling, of course, may have shifted since then — though these districts continue to trend closer to the center than others that are firmly Democratic. As Vox’s Aaron Rupar has written, however, the tightness of these polls also speaks to how much Democrats have gained in certain districts that favored Trump across the country.

To help take the heat off some moderates, Pelosi has been putting a lot of focus on the legislative work the caucus has done, in addition to impeachment. It’s a strategy that’s drawn criticism because it means that the president is also walking away with legislative victories he’ll be able to tout in 2020.

But with agreements being reached on the National Defense Authorization Act and 12 appropriations bills to fund the government, moderates like Luria are going to be able to go back home and talk about the money and other wins they’ve secured for their districts.

Some Democrats also said that disagreement on impeachment in the caucus and the party is okay, even if the majority of House Democrats are ready to move forward.

“I think we’re a big tent caucus, that’s what I like about our caucus,” Kirkpatrick told Vox. “There’s room to have whatever point of view you think you believe in and be yourself, be honest and represent your constituents.”

Still, there’s only so much room in the tent. It’s imperative for Democrats to make sure this vote goes well, since it will be the last time the entire caucus has an opportunity to vocalize their stance on the impeachment inquiry. A few defections won’t look too bad, but a substantially fragmented caucus would suggest that Democrats don’t even have the support within their own ranks for this effort even as they criticize Republicans for opposing it.

When the articles hit the floor this week, expect more debates and amendments before it goes to final passage.

The impeachment vote is the final move that Democrats make before handing things over to the Senate. Once the president has been impeached by the House, as is the expectation, the Senate will take over for the trial. Some House members will still be involved in making the case for the articles of impeachment as part of the trial, but the lower chamber won’t be the focal point of the action anymore.

Before they pass the reins, House Democrats are looking to capitalize on this chance to leave their mark.