The decision of freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew to be one of two House Democrats to oppose the impeachment of President Donald Trump is already causing him political problems in New Jersey, where some Democrats and progressive groups are actively discussing a primary challenge next year.
That doesn’t mean he’ll lose a primary. The general election could be a different story, although he’s a favorite to win a second term next year – at least right now.
But Van Drew’s greatest obstacle may come from his fellow House Democrats, to whom he has already made his mark.
“He’s got 100% name ID in the caucus,” one veteran congressional staffer told the New Jersey Globe. “Most of the guys down here don’t know all the freshmen, but they know Van Drew.”
In January, Van Drew flubbed his first vote – a roll call on the election of the Speaker of the House.
The job for each House member was simple: say the name of who you want for Speaker. Not everyone voted for Pelosi or McCarthy. Eighteen votes were cast for ten other individuals.
Asked to declare his choice for Speaker, Van Drew rose for the first time on the House floor and said “No.”
That caused some noticeable laughter in the House chamber and immediately enhanced Van Drew’s name ID among his colleagues.
At the end of the vote, the Clerk of the House went back to Van Drew and after a quick tutoring session, he voted present.
All but two of Van Drew’s seventeen years in the New Jersey Legislature were spent with a South Jersey Democratic ally having his back – either Joe Roberts as Majority Leader and then Speaker, or Senate President Steve Sweeney.
Van Drew frequently sought and received dispensation to vote against legislative Democrats to protect his Republican-leaning seat. He spent his entire career in the majority party and leadership was typically positioned to accommodate him.
In Washington, Van Drew faces the reality that leadership doesn’t give passes on religious issues like impeachment to Democratic incumbents in conservative districts.
The problem for the 66-year-old freshman is that he’s become branded by his fellow Washington Democrats in a way that might impede his ability to accomplish as much as he’d like to.
His votes on Pelosi and Trump may have branded Van Drew in the eyes of his fellow Democratic House members.
Van Drew would have a long wait for a subcommittee chairmanship anyway, but if House Democrats don’t view him as one of their own, it will be tough for him to secure such a post even when his term arrives.