WASHINGTON — The historic House vote Wednesday to impeach President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress was a mostly partisan affair, with only three Democrats joining with Republicans to vote “no.”
Reps. Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey broke with their party on the abuse of power charge, while Rep. Jared Golden of Maine joined them in opposition to the article accusing the president of obstruction of Congress.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a Democratic presidential candidate, voted present on both articles.
The result was remarkably similar to the outcome of a vote more than two months ago, when the House voted on the ground rules for the impeachment inquiry, and Peterson and Van Drew were the only two Democrats who opposed the measure.
After dozens of hours of public hearings and millions of dollars of Republican attack advertisements, Van Drew has told his colleagues he plans to switch parties and become a Republican.
No Republicans voted to impeach Trump, although Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, an independent who quit the Republican Party over the summer, joined with Democrats to support the articles.
“While the president’s resistance toward our investigative efforts has been frustrating, it has not yet, in my view, reached the threshold of ‘high crime or misdemeanor’ that the Constitution demands,” Golden said in a statement.
Van Drew spent part of Wednesday listening to the debate from the Republican side of the House chamber, surrounded by members of the party he will soon join.
“I had long said that I was against impeachment because I think it was used inappropriately in this case,” he told reporters after the vote. “This isn’t about liking or not liking Donald Trump. This is about the proper and appropriate use of one of the most serious actions to be taken in the United States of America.”
“I felt that it was appropriate,” Van Drew added, noting that he sat with Republicans given the nature of his vote.
The defections did not come as a surprise to Democratic leaders, who had privately been prepared for more opposition from endangered lawmakers from districts won by Trump in 2016. Instead, almost every one of them embraced the articles of impeachment in the days and hours before the vote.
In a statement, Gabbard, who had called for the president’s censure this week, said that she could not support impeachment “because removal of a sitting president must not be the culmination of a partisan process, fueled by tribal animosities that have so gravely divided our country.”
But Peterson and Golden face unique political challenges.
Representing a wide column of rural Minnesota, Peterson, 75, is known as one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress; he voted against the Affordable Care Act and earned an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. Twenty-eight years into his congressional career, he is widely considered the only Democrat who can hold his district, which Trump carried in 2016 by 31 points.
Golden, 37, a former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, narrowly ousted a Republican incumbent last year to win his seat in a district that encompasses most of the state of Maine and has since worked to maintain a low-profile in Washington. He received nearly 2,000 fewer votes than his opponent, but won as a result of ranked voting — a system that allows voters to list candidates in order of preference so that if in the first round no one wins a majority, officials can recount the ballots immediately until someone does.
Golden, who once worked as a committee aide for Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, was the only lawmaker to split his vote on the two articles, a decision that ultimately drew rebukes from both the left and right.
In a detailed 2,000-word statement that quoted “The Federalist Papers” and a Nixon-era book by a constitutional law scholar considered among the definitive guides to impeachment, he argued that he could not vote to impeach the president for obstruction of Congress. House Democrats, he contended, had not fought hard enough in the courts to hear from key Trump administration officials.
“Before wielding our awesome power to impeach a sitting president, we first ought to exhaust available judicial remedies, or — at the very least — give the courts a chance,” he wrote.
He agonized over the decision, scuttling plans to attend the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia over the weekend. Instead, he locked himself in his office, combing over notes and books and consulting former Sen. William S. Cohen, R-Maine, who held his seat in the House and was one of the first Republicans to break from his party and support the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.
While Golden’s decision, announced late Tuesday night, came as a surprise, Peterson made clear for months he opposed impeachment.
Peterson voted against the impeachment resolution in October that ushered in a new public phase of the process, cautioning, “Without support from Senate Republicans, going down this path is a mistake,” and had made clear little would change his mind. He and Van Drew were the only two Democrats at the time to oppose the resolution.
Republican officials, Peterson said, had since asked him to consider whether he, too, would switch party affiliations, but he declined, saving himself from the unwieldy political fate Van Drew seems to have resigned himself to.
Van Drew told aides over the weekend that he planned to switch parties and declare himself a Republican as early as this week. The move was blessed personally by Trump, and polling conducted this month suggested voting against impeaching Trump would damage Van Drew’s chances of winning his Democratic primary race.
By early this week, as his aides defected from his office en masse in protest, Van Drew was circumspect.
“I’m not discussing any of that right now,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I’m reevaluating my life and my thoughts.”