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The 4 Democrats who defected from their party on impeachment

Tulsi Gabbard voted “present.”

CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

Three Democrats voted against the impeachment of President Trump in the House of Representatives on Wednesday night, and one voted “present.”

One of the Democrats who voted no has already said he would leave the party.

The three voting (at least partially) against impeachment: Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, who has already said he will switch parties to become a Republican, longtime Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, and Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, who voted in favor of the first article of impeachment (abuse of power) but not the second (obstruction of Congress).

Van Drew and Golden are both in their first term. Van Drew, who represents a conservative district in southern New Jersey, announced over the weekend that he would switch parties, although his vote was still counted with Democrats’ on Wednesday night.

Golden represents a district in Maine that was a Democratic stronghold for 20 years but elected Trump by 10 points in 2016. Fewer people voted for Golden than his Republican opponent in 2018, but he won his seat in the midterms under ranked-choice voting because he was the second choice for voters who picked third-party candidates.

Peterson might not seem like an endangered Democrat: He’s in his 15th term in Congress, representing a western Minnesota district. But Trump dominated in his district in 2016, and Peterson has held onto his seat in part because he’s bucked the Democratic Party in the past. He’s been a longtime impeachment skeptic, voting against the impeachment resolution in October.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, also did not vote in favor of impeachment: She voted “present.” Gabbard has called for censure instead.

“I came to the conclusion that I could not in good conscience vote yes or no,” she said in a statement after the vote, calling impeachment “a partisan process, fueled by tribal animosities that have so gravely divided our country.”

But for the most part, the House Democratic caucus displayed a significant amount of unity — as Vox’s Ella Nilsen and Li Zhou explained earlier this week:

Almost all other moderate first-term Democrats have clearly come out for the articles of impeachment, even though some are well aware it could cost them their seat come November 2020.

“I know this might cost me my job, and that’s exactly why I did it,” Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) told Vox Tuesday. “I never imagined three years ago I’d be in this position, for gosh sakes. I can rest comfortably, and I’m not sure that can be said for all 433 members of this body right now.”

To be sure, making the tough choice to impeach Trump — even if it is a principled stance — also helps these Democrats avoid Van Drew’s fate: having their base abandon them or facing a tough primary before a difficult general election.

“He didn’t go into this thinking his vote on impeachment would cost him the support of his party. ... That turned out to be wrong,” said Cook Political Report House editor Dave Wasserman. “Other Democrats in similar districts are well aware a vote against impeachment could cost them more allies than could win them new friends.”

At this point, impeachment is a “no-win situation” for Democrats in Trump districts, Wasserman told Vox.

“They have no choice at this point but to hold hands and jump.”

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