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Vulnerable Democrats feel heat ahead of impeachment vote

Vulnerable centrist Democrats are feeling the heat on impeachment, a sign that some lawmakers are beginning to worry about the electoral implications of next week’s historic floor vote.

Democrats said a day after unveiling articles of impeachment against President Trump that they don’t expect more than a couple of defections at most. But there are indications that some members in battleground districts who backed the impeachment inquiry — opposed by only two Democrats — are nervous about voting to impeach Trump.

Few of the centrists are showing their cards a week out from the vote, but the spotlight is now turning to them as they hear from constituents on both sides.

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Some Democrats, including Rep. Elaine Luria (Va.), have avoided reporters in the Capitol hallways who are trying to pin down whether they plan to back articles that would make Trump just the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. Others gamely took questions but looked slightly overwhelmed by the crowds of journalists that quickly mushroomed around them.

Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), whose eastern Pennsylvania district went for Trump by nearly 10 points in 2016, said Republicans have spent nearly half a million dollars over the past two months on local TV ads asking voters to call his office and urge him to oppose impeachment. Cartwright, who has not revealed how he plans to vote, said he’ll make his intentions clear as the vote draws closer.

Cartwright told The Hill that the ad blitz is having an effect, noting that “$460,000 in northeastern Pennsylvania is a king’s ransom in media.”

“People are calling my office, they’re calling the number flashing on the screen and giving voice to their feelings on the subject,” he said.

Cartwright said he’s also hearing from Trump critics in his district, urging him to back the articles. But that constituency isn’t running the same aggressive ad campaign in the region, so those numbers are smaller, he said.

“I’m hearing from both sides. The people being urged to call my office and suggest a ‘no’ vote are in the majority because they’re the ones being solicited specifically,” Cartwright said.

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Still, the 233-member Democratic Caucus, which has been mostly unified on impeachment since Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) launched the inquiry Sept. 24, is largely expected to hold the line and back the two articles: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Only one Democrat, Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (N.J.), who opposed the inquiry, has so far said he will oppose the impeachment articles. He told reporters Wednesday that he and Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the other “no” vote on the inquiry, might be the only Democrats to vote against impeachment.

Peterson has not said how he plans to vote.

Van Drew was also forced to swat away multiple questions Wednesday about speculation he was thinking of switching parties over his opposition to impeachment.

“There’s rumors going around about everything. I’ve had so many rumors over the years about all kinds of crazy things,” he said. “It’s not [true]. I’m just doing what I’m doing. I’m still a Democrat, right here.”

Some vulnerable Democrats have already said they plan to support the articles of impeachment, including freshman Reps. Tom Malinowski (N.J.), Sharice Davids (Kan.), and Susan Wild (Pa.).

Malinowski said he expects most Democrats in battleground districts will also fall in line, based on his private conversations with them.

“I know some of them, not all of them, have come out publicly. I think many of them would prefer to announce any decision in their districts speaking to their constituents than standing here and talking to you guys,” Malinowski told reporters outside the House chamber.

“As I’m sure you can imagine, if you come from a district where opinions are mostly divided on this, that is the right way to do it,” he added.

If all members vote on the floor next week, Democrats could afford to lose up to 17 of their own and still pass the articles due to four vacancies. Democratic leaders are not formally whipping votes for the articles of impeachment, saying it is a vote of “conscience” for individual members.

“That does not mean that we don’t intend to talk to members and explain to them what the Judiciary Committee has done, why they’ve done it and answer any questions that they might have,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

At the same time, Democratic leadership has taken steps to ensure the caucus is as united as possible on an issue that divided them for most of the past year. The articles focus only on Trump’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to launch politically motivated investigations and obstruct Democrats’ inquiry, a move seen to be in response to centrists who didn’t want to wade into obstruction of justice territory from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

For now, many of the 31 Democrats representing districts that Trump carried in the 2016 election are publicly undecided on the articles of impeachment, saying they won’t take a formal position until they can study the precise language of the articles slated for a Judiciary Committee markup this week.

“I just want to see exactly what I need to vote on,” freshman Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.), who unseated a Republican last year, told The Hill.

Fellow New Jersey Democrat Rep. Josh Gottheimer added, “I need to see all the facts. I’m not going to prejudge anything until we get every bit of information in, and then we’ll make a decision.”

Even some of the freshman Democrats with national security backgrounds who wrote a joint op-ed in The Washington Post in September endorsing an impeachment inquiry are cagey about if they’ll vote for the articles.

Luria, a Navy veteran who ousted GOP Rep. Scott Taylor from his Virginia Beach-area swing seat last year, told inquisitive reporters she was “already on the record” on impeachment.

When a reporter replied that she had not seen Luria on the record, the freshman congresswoman replied, “Yeah, you can just Google it.” Luria earlier had said she was “satisfied” by the narrow scope of the articles and would likely support them.

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Another co-author of the op-ed, Rep. Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), said she was still reviewing the articles and wanted to give them “serious” consideration.

While nearly all Democrats voted for a resolution in late October establishing procedures for the impeachment inquiry’s public phase, the articles of impeachment will be the actual do-or-die vote. Yet relatively little has changed in terms of information yielded by the inquiry or public opinion since then.

Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.), who represents a district that Trump carried in 2016, said she’s “keeping an open mind.”

At the same time, Stevens said, “One thing is very clear — this is how I felt when I voted for the inquiry — is that we can’t be divided on the rule of law. And this is obviously a painful moment.”

Mike Lillis contributed.

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