Freshman Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (D-NJ), a vocal opponent of impeachment, plans to switch parties and join the Republican Party after meeting with President Donald Trump on Friday, Democratic sources told The Hill on Saturday.
Van Drew has begun informing his staff and fellow New Jersey lawmakers that he will leave the Democratic Party, said two Democratic senior aides. His decision comes just a day after he had a lengthy meeting at the White House with Trump.
A former dentist, Van Drew replaced former Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), who served 12 terms before retiring at the end of the last Congress. Adopting the historically red district, Van Drew moved quickly to distance himself from the liberal wing of the House Democratic Caucus, voting “present” during the election of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for Speaker in January and joining the conservative-leaning Blue Dog Democrats shortly thereafter.
In October, he was one of just two House Democrats to vote against the package of rules governing the impeachment process. He has vowed since then to oppose any impeachment articles that come to the floor related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, according to The Hill.
Van Drew has cited two central reasons for his opposition to impeachment. First, he said Trump’s handling of foreign policy in Kiev does not merit his removal.
“An article of impeachment is a very specific, very serious action, literally akin to declaring war, because you’re disenfranchising voters,” Van Drew told reporters earlier in the week. “So some folks … may not like the people that voted for Trump, but they still voted. So millions of those folks would be disenfranchised.”
Second, he voiced concerns that if the Senate declines to remove the president, as expected, Trump would use that acquittal as ammunition on the campaign trail to target Democrats up and down the ballot.
Earlier in the week, Van Drew shot down rumors that he was considering leaving the Democratic Party.
“There’s rumors going around about everything. I’ve had so many rumors over the years about all kinds of crazy things,” he told reporters just off the House floor. “It’s not [true]. I’m just doing what I’m doing. I’m still a Democrat, right here.”
However, Democrats’ aggressive push to impeach Trump had frustrated Van Drew, according to The Hill.
On Friday, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment that charge Trump with high crimes and misdemeanors.
The House of Representatives is expected to vote on Wednesday on the impeachment articles.
Democrats allege Trump used a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in US aid to Ukraine as leverage to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open two investigations that would benefit him politically, including one into the son of his 2020 political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
They also accused him of obstructing Congress during their subsequent investigation of that episode.
The White House has made clear that Trump “wants to have a trial in the Senate because it’s clearly the only chamber where he can expect fairness and receive due process under the Constitution.”