Editor’s Note: This article was updated with comment from Malinowski and Ghassali at 1:25 p.m. It was updated again with comment from Sires at 1:32 p.m.
All but one New Jersey’s Democratic Members of Congress voted in favor of a procedural impeachment inquiry resolution Thursday.
Among those who voted yes were four representatives in the state’s competitive districts: Reps. Mikie Sherrill, Andy Kim, Tom Malinowski and Josh Gottheimer.
“With this vote, Congress and the American people will be able to judge for themselves the extent of President Trump’s abuse of power,” Malinowski said. “The law is clear: no president can ask a foreign government for help in an election. No president should be allowed to abuse his or her power to leverage political favors from a foreign power. To protect our country and our Constitution, we must uphold these rules, or we give every future president license to break them.”
Rep. Jeff Van Drew was one of only two House Democrats to vote against the measure.
The vote is a potentially perilous one for vulnerable Democrats, and Republicans have wasted no time in seizing the opportunity to launch attacks over the same.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with ties to House Republican leadership has already launched a series of online ads targeting Kim, Gottheimer and Sherrill.
Those ads will appear on search engine queries using terms related to impeachment and direct voters to an anti-impeachment website.
“The Democrats are so blinded by their personal hatred of President Trump that they’re willing to sacrifice all work on the issues voters care about, just to have one last shot at removing him from office to avenge their 2016 loss,” CLF President Dan Conston said. “Now that they’ve cast their votes in favor of marching headfirst into impeachment, vulnerable Democrats have shown voters there is zero difference whatsoever between them and the radical leftists fighting tooth and nail to impeach this President.”
It’s not clear how much of an issue impeachment will be in 2020, and it won’t become any clearer until both the inquiry against President Donald Trump and next year’s elections progress further.
Still, Gottheimer and the state’s four freshman Democrats represent swing districts where the president’s popularity is greater than it is in the state as a whole.
During last year’s campaign, Sherrill was often reluctant to criticize Trump, as were Gottheimer, Kim and Van Drew.
The Democrats have already angled to frame impeachment as an issue secondary to policy in an effort to minimize any backlash their votes on the issue cause.
“My focus remains on fighting for the people of Burlington and Ocean Counties. It’s why this month I introduced bills that would lower health care costs for seniors and empower small businesses to grow, and today I introduced a bipartisan bill to help returning veterans find work,” Kim said. “We have to be able to keep addressing the problems on the ground that affect people’s daily lives while we pursue the truth and defend our Democracy.”
House Democrats are investigating Trump over a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, who is and was a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
Thursday’s vote creates rules for the public-facing phase of an impeachment inquiry that has largely been conducted behind closed doors up until this point.
The measure allows the House Intelligence Committee to hold public hearings and create a report for the House Judiciary Committee, which will decide whether to draft articles of impeachment against Trump.
It also provides Trump with due process rights, including allowing his attorneys to participate in the hearings.
It’s unlikely that Republican messaging will do much to address the minutia of Thursday’s resolution.
So far, they’ve opted to attack Democrats, including ones who have so far regarded the impeachment inquiry with a degree of skepticism, on the same grounds as President Trump, who has derided the inquiry into his alleged attempt to coerce a foreign nation to investigate a political opponent as a “witch hunt.”
“Josh Gottheimer showed his true colors today,” said Frank Pallotta, a GOP House candidate in the fifth district. “New Jersey’s Fifth District supported President Trump and wants Congress to focus on delivering commonsense solutions on pressing issues like immigration and prescription drug prices. In his vote, Josh seeks to upend the will of the district he supposedly represents in order to cater to Nancy Pelosi and liberal activists who have been after this President since Day 1.”
Pallotta wasn’t the only Gottheimer opponent to hit the incumbent on his impeachment vote.
“Voters in New Jersey’s 5th Congressional district sent Josh to Washington to do his job and deliver for his constituents,” Montvale Mayor Mike Ghassali said. “It is abundantly clear that his only accomplishments have been to raise record amounts of money from DC insiders and to cower to political bosses when they need votes. We deserve better.”
Van Drew’s breaking with his party is unsurprising. The congressman’s district covers all of Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic and Salem counties and includes parts of Ocean County.
Put simply, the district leans right.
Still, that doesn’t mean Republicans make up the entirety of the second district, and Van Drew’s no vote may set them against him.
In either case, it’d likely be best for Van Drew if voters’ focus lied somewhere other than impeachment.
His office did not immediately respond to a call and email seeking comment first made at 12:38 p.m.
The state’s safe Democratic congresspeople also voted in favor of the resolution, and it’s unlikely that the vote will come back to haunt Reps. Donald Norcross, Albio Sires, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Frank Pallone, Bill Pascrell or Donald Payne Jr.
““Today’s vote is an important step in establishing the procedure for open hearings in the House’s ongoing impeachment inquiry. After collecting testimony in a confidential and secure setting to ensure all witnesses are free from outside influence or attempts to align stories it is vital that the American people hear directly from witnesses,” Sires said. “Regardless of party, this step should be something everyone can agree upon in our pursuit of truth and transparency. The sole authority to impeach was granted to the House of Representatives in our Constitution to serve as a last resort in our system of checks and balances and to ensure that no one is above the law.”