New Jersey Congressman Jeff Van Drew, one of the two Democrats to vote against moving forward with the impeachment inquiry in October, is planning to switch parties over an impending House vote, according to multiple reports.
Van Drew, a first-time representative who flipped a district Trump carried by five points in 2016, denied earlier this week that he was considering a party switch, but confirmed he would ultimately vote against impeachment.
“I’m not changing anything — just doing my job,” he said in a brief interview on Tuesday. “I’m still a Democrat, right here.” He also told constituents as recently as November 21 that he was not switching, according to an account of a telephone town hall he had.
Van Drew met with Trump on Friday to discuss a potential switch following news that moderate Democrats may float a censure proposal in lieu of supporting impeachment or may even defect from the caucus over the vote, which is expected this coming Wednesday. The president reportedly blessed the move, and Van Drew told aides on Saturday that he intended to become a Republican as soon as next week.
Trump tweeted a little after midnight Saturday, seemingly confirming the switch.
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! https://t.co/OUc46HUwPq
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 15, 2019
Van Drew did not return multiple calls and other overtures from senior Democrats and state officials, who poured millions into his 2018 race to help Van Drew win a seat Republicans had held for the previous 24 years.
But Van Drew’s stance on impeachment had drawn heavy criticism from local New Jersey Democrats and drove poor polling numbers. Already considered a top Republican target for 2020, Van Drew recently received a polling memo which showed that 71 percent of Democrat primary voters would be less likely to support his re-election if he opposed impeachment against Trump.
He had also reportedly sought a letter of support from county leaders, but was strongly rebuked in a letter from Michael Suleiman, the Atlantic County chairman, who implored him to vote for impeachment.
Following news of the imminent switch, Suleiman called Van Drew a “coward.”
“It’s one thing to vote against impeachment, but instead of owning up to his constituents and explaining to them why he’s doing what he’s doing, he’s now decided to just completely abandon the Democratic Party and switch,” Suleiman said. “It’s just unconscionable.”
Other Democrats chimed in with more criticism.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy called Van Drew’s switch “cynical and desperate.”
“Despite knowing full well that the president has abused the powers of his office, Congressman Van Drew is now willing to enable Donald Trump just to try to salvage his own election,” Murphy said Saturday in a statement.
On Sunday, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.) pointed to Van Drew’s polling numbers as the main reason.
“What he’s reacting to is public polling that shows he can’t get renominated,” Nadler told ABC’s This Week. “His electorate in his district is 24 percent to renominate him and 60 percent to nominate somebody else.”