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NJ Dem Lawmaker to Become Republican   12/15 09:02

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- A House freshman from New Jersey who was planning to 
break with his party and vote against impeaching President Donald Trump will 
become a Republican, a GOP official said Saturday.

   Top House Republicans have been told of Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decision, 
according to a GOP official familiar with the conversations. The lawmaker had 
discussed switching parties in a meeting with Trump at the White House on 
Friday, an administration official said Saturday. 

   Van Drew's decision underscores the pressures facing moderate Democrats from 
Trump-leaning districts as next week's impeachment vote approaches. Van Drew 
won his southern New Jersey district by 8 percentage points last year, but 
Trump carried it by 5 points in 2016 and Van Drew was considered one of the 
more vulnerable House Democrats going into next November's congressional 
elections.

   There are 31 House Democrats who represent districts Trump carried in the 
2016 election, and many of them have been nervous about the political 
repercussions they would face by voting to impeach Trump. The House Republican 
campaign committee has already run ads targeting many of them, but most are 
expected to support Trump's impeachment. 

   A senior Democratic aide said Van Drew had not notified House Democratic 
leaders about his decision. All the aides spoke on condition of anonymity to 
describe private conversations. 

   The senior Democratic aide provided what was described as a poll conducted 
earlier this month by Van Drew's campaign showing that by more than a 2-1 
margin, people in his district would prefer a different candidate than Van Drew 
in the Democratic primary and general election. 

   Rumors surfaced last week that Van Drew might switch parties, and he 
repeatedly denied them to reporters. But he reaffirmed his plan to oppose 
impeachment, barring new evidence. 

   ``It doesn't mean that I agree with everything the president may have said 
or done. It means that I don't believe that these are impeachable offenses,`` 
he said in an interview Thursday. 

   Van Drew and a spokesperson did not answer their cellphones or return text 
messages on Saturday. 

    Trump put out a congratulatory tweet early Sunday. "Thank you for your 
honesty Jeff. All of the Democrats know you are right, but unlike you, they 
don't have the "guts" to say so!"

   Even with his defection, there remains no doubt that the 
Democratic-controlled House will vote to impeach Trump on a near party-line 
vote. 

   Democrats will still control the chamber by 232-198, plus an independent and 
four vacancies. Until now, Van Drew and Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota were 
the only Democrats expected to vote against impeachment, with perhaps a small 
handful of others joining them. House Republicans seem on track to oppose 
impeachment unanimously.

   Van Drew was a longtime state senator. His congressional district had been 
under Republican control for nearly two decades before he was elected.

   The House is set to approve two articles of impeachment against Trump this 
coming week. Democrats, who hold the majority, expect support from all but a 
few of their members. No Republicans are expected to join them. 

   The Republican-controlled Senate is then all but certain to acquit Trump 
after a trial in January. 

   Van Drew has argued that the process is likely just to further divide the 
country and it would be better to let voters decide Trump's fate in next year's 
election. 

   In the first article of impeachment, Trump is accused of abusing his 
presidential power by asking Ukraine to investigate his 2020 rival Joe Biden 
while holding military aid as leverage. In the second article, he's accused of 
obstructing Congress by blocking the House's efforts to investigate his 
actions. 


(KR)

 
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