House Democrats are expected to show a largely united front in a historic vote on Wednesday to impeach Donald Trump, despite concerns that doing so could damage their prospects at the ballot box in 2020.
The House judiciary committee voted 23-17 last week to advance two articles of impeachment against Mr Trump. They charge the president with abusing his power and obstructing Congress after a whistleblower complaint revealed that he had pushed his Ukrainian counterpart to announce investigations into former US vice-president Joe Biden and debunked theories about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
On Wednesday, the full House is expected to debate the charges ahead of a vote, which is set to deepen bitter divides between Democrats and Republicans.
Democrats flipped 41 House seats from Republicans in the 2018 US midterm elections, including 31 districts where Mr Trump won the popular vote in 2016. While questions had been raised over whether some newer members of Congress from highly-contested districts would hesitate to vote to impeach the president, as of Tuesday morning, just one said he would vote against the articles of impeachment.
Jeff Van Drew, a freshman Democratic congressman from New Jersey, indicated at the weekend that he would switch parties and join the Republicans over the vote — leading many members of his staff to resign.
Mr Van Drew was one of just two Democrats in the House who opposed a measure in October setting out the rules for the impeachment inquiry. The other, Collin Peterson, has said he has not made a final decision but is leaning against voting in favour of impeachment.
Mr Trump praised Mr Van Drew on Twitter on Tuesday: “Congressman Van Drew is very popular in our great and very united Republican party. It was a tribute to him that he was able to win his heavily Republican district as a Democrat. People like that are not easily replaceable!”
However, more than a dozen other Democrats in vulnerable seats have said they will vote to impeach the president.
Elissa Slotkin, a first-term Democratic congresswoman from Michigan and former CIA analyst, wrote in the Detroit Free Press on Monday that she would vote “yes” on both articles of impeachment. Mr Trump “used the power of the presidency for his own benefit, to give himself some advantage in the very election that would determine whether he remained in office”, she wrote.
“Over the past few months, I’ve been told more times that I can count that the vote I’ll be casting this week will mark the end of my short political career,” she wrote. “That may be. But in the national security world that I come from, we are trained to make hard calls on things, even if they are unpopular, if we believe the security of the country is at stake.”
Abigail Spanberger, a freshman congresswoman from Virginia who also worked for the CIA, said she would also be voting in favour of the two articles of impeachment because she was “driven by facts and evidence to protect the integrity of our democracy”.
Joe Cunningham, a first-year congressman from South Carolina, told the Post and Courier newspaper: “If I wanted to do what was easy politically, I would just vote ‘no’ and move on.”
It remains unclear what the political risks are for such Democrats in voting to impeach Mr Trump heading into the 2020 elections. A Fox News poll published on Sunday showed 50 per cent of registered voters were in favour of Mr Trump’s impeachment and removal from office, with 41 per cent opposed. An NPR/PBS/Marist poll out on Monday showed 47 per cent of US adults in support of Mr Trump’s impeachment, compared with 48 opposed.
An vote for impeachment in the House will trigger a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Mr Trump is expected to be acquitted. Two-thirds of the 100 US senators would need to convict Mr Trump in order to remove him from office, a figure that would require the support of 20 Republicans
While some Republicans, including Utah senator and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have said they will not prejudge the trial, it remains highly unlikely that he and 19 of his colleagues would vote against the president.
Even before the House vote, Republicans and Democrats sparred over the ground rules for the impeachment trial. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, on Tuesday rejected a trial proposal from Charles Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, including a call to hear testimony from new witnesses such as Mick Mulvaney, Mr Trump’s acting chief of staff, and John Bolton, the former national security adviser.
“Senators — particularly Republican senators — will have a choice: Do they want a fair, honest trial that examines all the facts? Or do they want a trial that doesn’t let the facts come out?” Mr Schumer said on Twitter.
Mr McConnell called that proposal “dead wrong” and said it “could set a nightmarish precedent for our institution.”