On Verge Of Impeachment Vote, First-Term, Moderate Democrats Weigh A Political Risk

Dec 14, 2019
Originally published on December 14, 2019 6:28 pm

Last month, Democratic freshman Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia took a giant, political risk.

The veteran Navy commander released a dramatic, 2-minute video declaring her support for the formal House impeachment inquiry.

The move expanded the Republican target on her back, as the GOP vies to take back the seat she flipped to Democrats last year.

Now, she has taken another risk, confirming she will vote yes to impeach President Trump next week.

"I have always said this was not a political decision," Luria said. "It was about what was wrong and what was right, and if I don't get re-elected in 2020 because of it, I'll know that I did right thing. I was on the right side of history, and I'll be able to look at myself in the mirror."

Luria and other moderates in the freshman class of the House of Representatives will find out in the coming year whether their vote on impeaching the president will cost them their seats in the 2020 elections.

Other moderates have already joined Luria in stepping forward to announce their plans to vote yes to impeach the president on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Among those joining Luria are Reps. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, Colin Allred of Texas and Susan Wild of Pennsylvania.

"It's very, very important for everyone to understand that nobody in this country, especially those of us in government and the president, are not above the law," Wild said moments before announcing her decision.

Other freshman moderates say they are taking additional time to deliberate, revisit the evidence from the House inquiry before releasing a decision on their vote.

"I'm still in the process of reading all the testimony," said Pennsylvania Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, "and I will make a decision over the weekend."

New York Rep. Anthony Brindisi was part of conversations earlier this week with a small group of Democratic members considering an alternative to impeachment in the form of censure of the president.

Now, he says he'll also weigh the impeachment decision in the coming days.

"It's huge," Brindisi said of the vote. "That's why I need this weekend to really sit down and kind of digest all the stuff that is before us with impeachment."

Rep. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey says she's also reviewing impeachment arguments through the lens of her current and previous roles, including that as a veteran Navy helicopter pilot.

"I think what people expect from me is to use my experience as a veteran, as a federal prosecutor, even as a mother and someone who cares deeply about our Democracy, is to make decisions that I think will be in the best interest of our country and New Jersey and that's what I've tried to do," Sherrill said.

These representatives will be closely watched on the House floor on Wednesday, when the lower chamber is expected to take its historic vote. The moderates, despite all the pressure, are expected to join the Democrat-controlled House to approve the articles.

And they'll let the vote's impact and the rest of history play out — reelections or not — come next year.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The stage is set for a vote next week by the full House of Representatives on two articles of impeachment against President Trump. The vote is expected to break down along party lines, with most Democrats in the majority voting in favor of impeachment and most if not all Republicans voting against.

In a moment, we'll hear from one of the Democrats in the House leadership, Representative Dan Kildee of Michigan, the party's deputy whip. But there are a few Democrats representing districts where President Trump may have won or where Republicans remain competitive who may feel that this is a particularly tricky vote in light of their own reelection races in 2020. To talk more about this, we're joined now by NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales.

Claudia, welcome.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hi there.

MARTIN: Are Democrats in districts where the president is popular or where Republicans are competitive feeling pressure from Democratic leaders to vote for impeachment?

GRISALES: I'm hearing from these moderates that they aren't feeling pressure from their own party leaders. But there is pressure from voters and even Republicans hoping for Democratic defections. One of those moderates, freshman Representative Anthony Brindisi of New York, said he has not gotten, quote, "one ounce of pressure from these leaders." But he's approaching this with a certain gravity, taking time to reread evidence from the inquiry. Let's take a listen.

ANTHONY BRINDISI: There's been a lot on the plate this week, and this weekend, I'm going to take some time and deliberate and look at the articles and make a decision.

GRISALES: Now, that's a departure from Republicans, who have said they are whipping this vote and predicting zero defections. That said, we are expecting the vast majority of Democrats to vote for impeachment and approve these two articles against President Trump. And this is despite the pressure they may be feeling from voters, some on one side saying they want to see this president impeached. However, these are conservative districts for Democrats. And another side is saying, we don't think impeachment is necessary.

MARTIN: So it is accurate to say - isn't it? - that Nancy Pelosi is speaker in part because of support from these Democrats who flipped districts in 2018. That's right, right?

GRISALES: Correct.

MARTIN: OK. So what are they saying about impeachment?

GRISALES: In some ways, they are echoing Speaker Pelosi's words. It's a somber moment in our country, and they are approaching the decision with the seriousness that it requires. Some, like Representative Brindisi, are taking that additional time to make a decision. But there are others who have already announced they are voting for impeachment, political risks what they may be. I spoke to Representative Susan Wild of Pennsylvania. She flipped her district blue last year, and she says she's a yes. Let's take a listen.

SUSAN WILD: It's very, very important for everyone to understand that nobody in this country, especially those of us in government and the president, are not above the law.

GRISALES: She's one of the few moderates who have publicly stepped out already to say they support this inquiry and will vote for impeachment. Another is Representative Elaine Luria, a freshman representative, who is a military veteran. She's also a yes. Others have put off the decision to later this weekend or Monday. But we're still expecting a lot of these moderates to join Wild and Luria in votes approving the articles of impeachment.

MARTIN: Claudia, before we let you go, it looks as though the impeachment vote could come to the House floor Wednesday. What are some of these members doing until then?

GRISALES: Well, they're are going to be preparing for a very busy week on the House floor. Over the last few weeks and months, an argument that these Democrats have made is that they can walk and chew gum, and now they're saying we can walk, chew gum, run and do cartwheels, and we're going to show you we can do that this week.

They're preparing for votes on spending to keep the government's lights on. They're facing a deadline on Friday. If they don't meet that deadline, we'll have another government shutdown before us. And then that impeachment vote will be sandwiched between another vote on trade. This is a very difficult agreement that Democrats reached with Republicans to set new standards for workers in the agreement of trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

MARTIN: That was NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.