When the House of Representatives votes to impeach President Trump on Wednesday night, the chamber will radiate the pomp and drama befitting what will be just the third vote of its kind in American history.
What the vote won’t have, however, is any whiff of suspense. The outcome has been preordained for weeks—even the final vote tally is basically locked in, with only a small group of lawmakers keeping their intentions a secret as of Wednesday afternoon.
But as of Tuesday evening, nearly every purple and red-district Democrat decided to vote for both articles.
It could have been different. Over 30 House Democrats representing districts Trump won—many of whom were loath to even touch impeachment until the Ukraine scandal came along—faced a dilemma as the House grew nearer to the inevitable drafting, debating, and voting on articles of impeachment.
As these lawmakers weighed a move certain to alienate a chunk of constituents no matter what, Democratic leadership never seemed seriously concerned that enough of them would decide to jump ship and tank the two articles of impeachment. Perhaps, some thought, a half-dozen or more might decide Trump’s conduct did not meet the bar for this grave constitutional punishment.
Speaking the language of duty and Constitution, their move amounted to a leap of faith that their constituents will ultimately reward them for taking a principled stand for something they believe in—even if it is to impeach a president they support—rather than punish them.
And if they get punished, well, so be it. A YOLO attitude has prevailed among some lawmakers who are saying if they lose their seats over their impeachment vote, it was all worth it.
Take Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), who wrote in an op-ed announcing her decision to impeach that “over the past few months, I’ve been told more times that I can count that the vote I’ll be casting this week will mark the end of my short political career. That may be.”
Some are even predicting outright that impeachment will eat into Democrats’ House majority.
“In all likelihood, some of us are gonna lose our jobs over it,” Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) told Vice News.
A Democrat in one of the toughest political spots, Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.), told The Daily Beast he wouldn’t call his decision a leap of faith.
“I think that most people want their representative to just vote their conscience and do the right thing, not what is politically expedient,” said the congressman, who represents an upstate New York district that Trump won by nearly 16 points.
Brindisi predicted that come next November, his constituents will remember his work on other issues—like manufacturing and agriculture—than his Wednesday vote to impeach. “I believe that, at least in the community that I represent, people are more concerned about the kitchen table issues as opposed to impeachment,” he said.
Another, Rep. Joe Cunningham, who represents a South Carolina district that’s long been solidly GOP turf, insisted “politics did not enter into the calculus.”
“I mean there's backlash with every vote we take,” he said. “This is kind of what we sign up for. People send us up here to digest all the facts and call balls and strikes and do the right thing.”
There were, of course, bound to be at least a few exceptions to Democrats’ impeachment firewall. Rep. Jared Golden, who won a solidly Trumpy district in Maine, said he’d vote for the abuse of power article, but not the obstruction of Congress article—a move perfectly calibrated to outrage just about everyone. Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, a longtime impeachment opponent, took that baby-splitting to its logical extreme: he will vote against the articles as a Democrat—and then is likely to switch to the GOP, per several media reports.
The House GOP—which has done its part to quash any of Wednesday’s suspense by wrangling their lawmakers lock-step behind the president—has taunted these lawmakers, saying they’ve ensured they will be out of jobs come January 2021. Republican campaign groups are already beginning an aggressive effort to target them specifically, and many of the lawmakers have already been on the receiving end of millions of dollars in attack ads.
During the impeachment debate that dominated the House floor on Wednesday, Republicans used their time to hammer home the idea that Democrats were hammering the nail in their political coffins.
“The voters will remember next November what you’re doing this December,” said Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA). Then invoking the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Kelly said that “this is a day that will live in infamy.”
Polling on impeachment in key races has been limited, but an initial survey—one commissioned by the Trump campaign—showed a surprisingly high level of support for impeachment in a district the president won handily. In Rep. Kendra Horn’s Oklahoma City-area district—which Trump carried by 13 points—45 percent of voters backed impeachment, compared to 52 percent against. It’s an encouraging sign to Democrats who face more favorable districts, and insist that it is the GOP will pay the political price on impeachment, not them.
Meanwhile at the White House mid-afternoon on Wednesday, senior staffers spent their final hours of being able to say their boss hasn’t been impeached publicly sticking to talking points about the president’s achievements in office rather than the debate down the street.
One of those staffers, Trump’s White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, took the time following a TV hit standing near the lectern in the White House briefing room to answer reporters’ questions regarding the impeachment process and the Ukraine scandal. She instead spent much of the time mocking the assembled press.
“I don’t think you’re asking anything,” she told one, before telling him he was doing a bad job at being “neutral” in his questioning.
-- Additional reporting by Asawin Suebsaeng