Anti-Impeachment Democratic Congressman Reportedly Switching Parties
Democratic Congressman Jeff van Drew of New Jersey is reportedly switching parties
Congressman Jeff van Drew, an ostensible Democrat who represents New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, is reportedly set to announce that he is switching parties to become a Republican on the eve of the vote in the House of Representatives to impeach the President:
Officials said Saturday that Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, a vocally anti-impeachment Democrat, will join the Republican Party in the coming days — delivering a political jolt to Democrats ahead of next week’s expected vote to impeach the president.
The decision, they said, came after Van Drew joined President Trump for a lengthy Friday meeting, during which Trump urged him to join the GOP.
Three Democratic officials familiar with Van Drew’s discussions in recent days said he has decided to switch parties; two said his staff was informed of his decision Saturday. The White House meeting was confirmed by a Trump administration official and one of the Democratic officials.
Van Drew, his chief of staff and his communications director did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.
Van Drew, who won a previously Republican seat in 2018, has been a critical voice opposing impeachment inside the Democratic ranks, saying the process is too divisive and comes too close to the 2020 presidential election to be worth pursuing. A member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, Van Drew has positioned himselfat the rightmost flank of his party, though he has generally voted in line with the leadership on major bills.
Van Drew and Rep. Collin C. Peterson, a veteran Minnesota lawmaker who represents a much more conservative district than Van Drew’s, were the only two Democrats to vote against a House resolution in October formalizing the impeachment inquiry.
Van Drew’s decision to oppose impeachment — and his willingness to proclaim his views on the GOP-friendly Fox News Channel — badly alienated Democratic voters in his district, sparking a primary challenge that threatened his prospects for reelection. Brigid Callahan Harrison, a Montclair State University political science professor, signaled last month that she is likely to run for the Democratic nomination.
A polling memo obtained by The Washington Post, citing results of a Dec. 7-10 survey of likely Democratic voters commissioned by Van Drew’s campaign, found that only 24 percent thought he should be reelected, with 58 percent wanting another Democrat nominated for the seat.
The memo was circulated widely Saturday by Democrats eager to argue that a party switch by Van Drew would be motivated by political self-preservation rather than principle.
But a party switch on the eve of a historic impeachment vote would undoubtedly be politically damaging to Democrats, who have listened for weeks as Republicans claimed that their attempt to oust the president would backfire at the ballot box.
In an interview Saturday, Harrison blasted Van Drew for potentially putting his own political career above the constitutional matters at stake with Trump’s impeachment. She said an announcement regarding her campaign plans is “imminent.”
“He may think this is a politically expedient move and that Republican voters will embrace him,” she said. “I think Republicans, Democrats and independents all recognize a traitor and value loyalty. And I don’t think that a politically motivated decision is the right way to go when our constitutional democracy is a stake.”
Van Drew, who had previously served as a member of the New Jersey State Senate for a decade, won election to Congress in 2018 representing New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, which encompasses most of the rural parts of southern New Jersey and stretches from the Delaware River to Atlantic City and other southern shore points. Previously, the seat had been represented by Republican Frank LoBiondo, who had been elected to the seat in 1994. It’s also worth noting that, while he lost the Garden State by an overwhelming margin in 2016, President Trump actually won van Drew’s district 51% to 46%, one of six New Jersey Congressional Districts he won that year. Additionally, while he has nominally been a Democrat, Van Drew has often disagreed with his party and, during his time in the New Jersey legislature was known for his defense of gun rights in sharp contrast to the rest of his party. He also skipped a trip that all of the other Democratic members of the state’s Congressional delegation took to Washington with Governor Phil Murphy after the election last year.
It was in October of this year, though,, that van Drew stood out as one of only two Democrats to oppose opening an impeachment inquiry against the President related to the Ukraine matter. Since then he has appeared frequently on Fox News Channel to discuss his opposition to the inquiry. As noted above, he has apparently also been in discussions with the White House about switching parties as a way and the possibility of avoiding a primary challenge if he does so. This happened at the same time that van Drew faced eroding support from national and local Democrats as well as a Democrat who announced she would oppose him in the 2020 Democratic Primary. Given all of this, it’s hard to see this as anything but a move on van Drew’s part to preserve his political future.
Party switches like this, while uncommon, are not unprecedented. We’ve seen them happen on both sides of the political aisle for years and they are usually motivated by the same desire for political preservation that is motivating van Drew in this case. As it turns out, though, New Jersey Republicans don’t sound very interested in van Drew becoming one of them:
Van Drew’s political conversion doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be the GOP nominee. Three Republicans had already declared their candidacies for his seat. And while Trump’s backing would be politically potent, it would have to overcome hard GOP feelings from decades of tough election battles against Van Drew.
One of the Republican candidates, Brian Fitzherbert in a statement Saturday accused Van Drew of “trying to use South Jersey Republicans to cling onto his power.”
“How stupid does Desperate Jeff Van Drew think South Jersey Republicans are? Desperate Jeff knew exactly what Washington Democrats were about when he ran for Congress two years ago,” Fitzberhert said.
Keith Davis, the Republican chairman of Atlantic County, said his party’s candidate selection process will proceed as normal, with or without Van Drew.
“We have a process, and we’ll see how it goes,” Davis said. “We’ve got three candidates in the race right now, we have a convention in the spring and I’m sure it will be an interesting one.
It’s hard to miss the political opportunism going on here. At the same time, though, a defection like this on the eve of the impeachment vote will come as at least somewhat of a political embarrassment to Democrats. This is especially given the extent to which Speaker Pelosi has worked to protect red district Democrats, who are essential to the party retaining its majority in 2020.