STATEN ISLAND, New York—One of the last Democratic holdouts against the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump has come out in support of the investigation, citing the president’s own behavior in recent days as pouring “gasoline on the fire.”
“I will support and I will defend the United States Constitution, and it is for that reason that I intend to fully support this impeachment inquiry and follow the facts,” Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.) told roughly 150 constituents on Wednesday evening at the beginning of a town hall hearing on transportation, to loud cheers and a smattering of standing ovations from the crowd.
“I’m gonna follow these facts wherever they lead, no matter the consequences!” Rose continued.
As one of only 11 Democratic members of the House of Representatives not to openly support the impeachment inquiry, Rose has cut a lonely figure on Capitol Hill in recent days. But as a Democratic member of the House of Representatives representing New York City and opposing the impeachment inquiry into the city’s most loathed son, Rose may have been the loneliest man in American politics.
At the town hall at the Jewish Community Center on Staten Island, Rose faced constituents for the first time since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry into Trump, following revelations that he pressured the president of Ukraine to partner with U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani in digging up dirt on the former vice president and current Democratic presidential frontrunner, Joe Biden.
In the days that followed Pelosi’s announcement, Rose stood, like his Staten Island-based district, as a lone beachhead in the midst of a tide of progressive anger over his does-he-or-doesn’t-he public stance on the impeachment proceedings against the president.
“I have opposed a rush to judgment to date because the American people deserve to know that when this country is in crisis, we’re gonna act responsibly and deliberately, especially when it involves impeachment,” Rose said at the outset of the town hall.
But, Rose continued, the apparent attempts by the Trump administration to thwart the congressional investigation into the Ukraine scandal is “absolutely unacceptable,” and attempts by Republicans in Congress to provide cover indicates that they “have chosen to serve their own party” over country.
“You just want to scream—if I had hair, I’d want to rip it out,” joked Rose, who keeps his head shaved.
After Rose announced his support for the impeachment inquiry, “wherever it leads,” one constituent stood up, shout-asking whether Rose had supported Christopher Steele, the British ex-spy whose dossier into the Trump campaign’s alleged coordination with the Kremlin helped kickstart public support for the 18-month investigation into the president by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The man, who later handed out pamphlets for LaRouchePAC, the political action committee of late perennial presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche, was quickly shouted down by other attendees, who directed him to write his question on a piece of paper that would be drawn from a reusable grocery bag like everyone else.
Nine months into his first term in Congress, Rose has made a slow move toward supporting the impeachment inquiry that illustrates the quandary he and other Democratic members of Congress who represent swing districts face: Is it better to invite Republican anger over supporting impeachment or to invite Democratic anger over not supporting impeachment?
Of the 11 members of the House of Representatives who hail from New York City, Rose represents the city’s most Republican district—its only Republican district, really. Composed of the borough of Staten Island and Brooklyn’s suburban-esque southwestern edge, Rose’s district is New York’s whitest (nearly three in four constituents are Caucasian), most conservative (Rose is only its second Democratic representative in 30 years), and sole Trump-friendly (the president bested Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 10 points) congressional district.
Rose, who ran on kitchen-table issues like infrastructure improvements, has pointedly denied any role that the political geography of his right-leaning district might play in his stance on impeachment. In an opinion piece published on Sept. 12—before revelations of Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky broke the dam on impeachment—Rose wrote that his fellow Democrats were “at risk of repeating a similar bait-and-switch mistake by focusing on impeachment instead of infrastructure, healthcare costs, and putting people to work with livable wages and benefits.”
Even after the White House released the transcript of Trump’s call with Zelensky—in which the president requested that the newly elected Zelensky “do me a favor” by investigating unproven allegations of corruption against Biden and his son, Hunter—Rose has carefully danced around coming out in support of the inquiry.
On Sept. 24, Rose released a carefully worded statement declaring that “the American people deserve the truth and Congress needs the facts,” calling on the administration to release “all documents related to the whistleblower case.” Three days later, as calls for Democratic unity in the impeachment inquiry rose in volume to a roar, Rose released a second statement, refusing to “operate on any false timeline when our national security is at stake.”
“My constituents—and our country—deserve members of Congress who will review the facts and ensure the American people are fully informed,” Rose said. “This story is far from over and we must proceed in a deliberate and responsible manner... Under no circumstances will I allow politics to influence my decision regarding this matter.”
Rose steadily denied that politics played any role in his initial refusal to come out in support of the impeachment inquiry, and denied on Wednesday that his about-face was the result of political pressure.
“The last thing I will ever do is base any decision that I make, or any speed with which I make that decision, off of political calculation,” Rose told reporters on Capitol Hill on Friday, calling the formation of the inquiry “a sad day for America.”
But like the 10 other Democrats who are holding off on joining their colleagues in backing the inquiry—let alone impeachment outright—Rose represents a right-leaning district, one that Republicans are eager to bring back into the fold.
Republican Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis has already declared her candidacy for the party’s nomination for the seat, and Trump himself has indicated that Rose’s seat is high on his wish list. On Friday, Trump retweeted an attack ad posted by Republican National Committee Chair Ronna Romney McDaniels, in which Rose was blasted for seeking “endless investigations.” Trump re-retweeted the same advertisement two days later, promising that Republicans will “win big” in 2020, particularly against Democratic incumbents in “Trump type districts” who support his ouster.
But as the chasmic partisan gap on impeachment widens—polling indicates that roughly four in five Democrats support impeaching Trump, while nine in 10 Republicans oppose it—Rose’s refusal to come out in support of the inquiry poses its own problems. While an overly aggressive stance on impeachment could inflame Republicans in his district who still support the president, dodging support for the inquiry could weaken his support among the voters who made him a congressman, or even raise the risk of a Democratic primary opponent from the left. Nearly the entire margin of his 2018 victory came from the more liberal Brooklyn section of his district, which means that losing those voters could be perilous.
Rose, for his part, isn’t worried about either possibility.
“Talk to any political expert, and they would not say that what I am doing right now is the most politically astute thing that I could do,” Rose told reporters after the event, asked whether his turnaround was politically motivated.
As for the president’s tweeted attacks, Rose encouraged him to keep them coming.
“I am not concerned at all by the NRCC or anyone that wants to try and challenge me, because they already tried once and we kicked their ass,” Rose said pugnaciously. Instead of worrying about Trump-won districts, he said, Republicans in swing districts should try to find their conscience, Rose said: “Show some semblance of courage, take a political risk, and join in support for this impeachment inquiry.”