Democrats in Trump districts wrestle with ‘vote of conscience’ on impeachment



WASHINGTON – Rep. Elissa Slotkin can tell when another TV ad criticizing her recent vote to authorize an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump has just aired in her central Michigan district: the angry calls to her congressional office spike.

As a Democrat representing a district Trump won handily in 2016, the former CIA analyst is used to navigating choppy political waters on a host of controversial issues. But now with a historic vote to impeach the president just days away, the freshman is facing the toughest moment of her nascent career on Capitol Hill.
"There’s over $1 million in attack ads running in my district on this issue. I knew when I called for an inquiry, it would be controversial," Slotkin recently told USA TODAY. "You just have to watch my town halls to know it has been."
She’s not alone.

Thirty other Democrats from Trump districts, most of whom are freshmen, will be casting votes on the politically volatile issue this week. With hard-liners on both sides dug in, those centrists will be the ones deciding whether Trump becomes the third president ever to be impeached. 

So far, the handful of Trump district Democrats who have announced how they'll vote are breaking in favor of impeaching the president on at least one of the two articles – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – that the House Judicatory Committee approved Friday.
The panel passed both articles 23-17 along party lines, putting impeachment before the full House as soon as Wednesday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi D-Calif., isn't strong-arming rank-and-file Democrats to support impeachment, calling it a vote of conscience. But to help them, she and her deputies have found ways to entice moderates to support such a politically risky move.
Party leaders kept the articles narrowly focused on Trump's conduct with Ukraine and not on broader charges progressives pushed for, including the president's finances, hush-money deals with women, and the findings of the Mueller report.

The articles pertain to allegations Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine, an ally, to go after political rival Joe Biden in a way that would benefit the president's 2020 re-election, and then tried to cover it up by stonewalling Congress from getting records or witness testimony.

Moderates said it also helped that leadership scheduled the final impeachment vote to be sandwiched between votes on two key issues: ratification of a new North American trade agreement and spending bills that include priorities for their districts.
That's given centrists the ability to counter the charge from GOP lawmakers that the obsession to impeach has smothered any ability to get things done on Capitol Hill.

"My main thrust is to get people to know that Congress hasn’t stopped working," said Arizona Rep. Tom O'Halleran, a second-term Democrat representing a Trump district.  "And there’s a perception out there that it has. And it’s really a bad perception. We’re continuing to have committee hearings and everything else."

But voting to endorse the removal of a president who remains popular among many constituents won't be an easy sell for Democrats in red districts.

Slotkin was part of the blue wave in 2018 that flipped the House to Democratic control. Because two-thirds of those Trump-district Democrats have been in office for less than a year, they lack the advantage of long-term incumbency that could help them weather a risky vote in a battleground district.

And their 2020 Republican challengers are watching.
As soon as Rep. Conor Lamb, a Pennsylvania Democrat who represents a Trump district, told a local TV station Thursday he would support impeachment, GOP opponent Sean Parnell pounced.
"Hey @ConorLambPA, today you sold out the vast majority of people in Western Pennsylvania by supporting this sham," he tweeted. "You put your party, BEFORE the will of the people you promised to represent. The people of Western Pennsylvania deserve better. #PA17"
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