Impeachment vote becomes the top issue in 2020 Congressional races
(Kyusung Gong | AP file photo) In this Nov. 6, 2018 file photo, Harley Rouda, Democratic congressional candidate in the 48th district, addresses his supporters at his election night party in Newport Beach, Calif. Voters will decide whether to reward or punish incumbents for their choices. And while Republicans and Democrats acknowledge that other issues like the economy and health care costs could overwhelm impeachment by next November, both sides, but especially the GOP, are already using the bitter impeachment fight as weapons.
• The day after nearly every House Democrat voted to impeach President Donald Trump
, the chief of the House Republican campaign committee said the political fallout was clear.
"Last night their obsession with impeachment finally came to a head, and they basically ended their majority," Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer said Thursday. "Max Rose is done," he continued, listing him among freshmen Democrats from districts Trump captured in 2016 who he said won't survive next November's elections.
The feisty Rose, a Brooklyn native and Afghanistan combat veteran with an advanced degree from the London School of Economics, sees things differently. "Mark my words, okay?" said Rose, whose Staten Island-centered district was the only one Trump won in New York City. "We are going to beat them by such a wide margin that next time around, they won't even talk like this again, okay?"
It's too early to say who will be proven correct as Republicans wage a challenging struggle to regain the House majority they lost last year. But less than 11 months from presidential and congressional elections, the near party-line House vote impeaching Trump locked in lawmakers' positions on the subject. Many moderate lawmakers from swing districts had spent months saying they were on the fence.
Now, voters will decide whether to reward or punish incumbents for their choices. And while Republicans and Democrats acknowledge that other issues like the economy and health care costs could overwhelm impeachment by next November, both sides — but especially the GOP — are already using the bitter impeachment fight as weapons.
"This is an attack on Democracy," blared one Trump campaign fundraising email that included a thank you from "Donald J. Trump, President of the United States." It added, "An attack on freedom. An attack on everything we hold dear in this country. And it's an attack on YOU."
Freshman Rep. Harley Rouda, who ousted a 30-year House GOP veteran from what was once a Republican stronghold in Southern California, was among Democrats issuing their own pleas for cash.
"Last night I cast my vote to defend our Constitution and impeach the President of the United States. A vote bigger than party, polling, and politics, & we've faced an onslaught of attacks since," Rouda beseeched supporters.
Republican organizations and conservative outside groups have outspent their Democratic rivals, $11 million to $5 million, on television ads mentioning impeachment in congressional races. The figures from Advertising Analytics, a firm in Alexandria, Virginia, that tracks advertising, exclude spending by candidates' campaigns.
So far, both sides have combined to spend at least $500,000 in each of 15 House races from South Carolina to Nevada on impeachment spots, the data shows. Republican groups have spent that amount without any Democratic expenditures in three other districts in Utah, Minnesota and New York.
Underscoring how the GOP is using impeachment for offense while Democrats are in a more defensive crouch, all but one of the 18 districts that's seen that much money spent on the issue are held by Democrats. The lone Republican is Rep. John Katko, a three-term lawmaker whose upstate New York district is one of just three held by the GOP that were won by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Of the remaining 17 districts, all were carried by Trump and all but one are represented by Democratic freshmen, who are often less secure than congressional veterans.
"If you're a truth seeker or care about where the country is going, I think we cast the right vote," said Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., who heads House Democrats' campaign organization.
"We have to just keep focused on what matters to people. Health care is No. 1. Making Washington more functional is very important. That's a very hard thing to do, but we've got to keep working on it," Bustos said.
That's a formula that Rose, whose working-class district Trump carried by 10 percentage points, is following.
Asked how he would overcome GOP attacks over his vote to impeach Trump, Rose cited measures including one financing a sea wall for Staten Island's eastern shore and another buttressing a compensation fund for survivors of the 9/11 attacks.
"We are delivering for the district, plain and simple," he said. "Over and over and over again, we're putting government back on the side of people who've been working their hearts out and been ignored."
Democrats led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., control the House 232-198, plus one independent and four vacancies. That includes Thursday's party switch by New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who joined the GOP after being one of only two Democrats who opposed impeachment.
Impeachment will reverberate as well in Senate races, where the GOP will be fighting to retain its 53-47 majority. That chamber is expected to begin its trial next month on whether to oust Trump from office and seems certain to acquit him.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has made clear he is cooperating with the White House and wants a swift trial with no witnesses.
That could limit the risks for GOP senators like Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine. They face competitive reelection races in swing states where Republicans adore Trump but independents are divided, and these senators could also be damaged by a trial that seems to veer out of control.
Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama faces risks of his own. His state overwhelmingly backed Trump in 2016, so Jones must chose between voting to remove Trump and infuriating most voters or acquitting him and angering loyal Democrats.
McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have had unproductive talks so far on what the trial's rules will be.
Schumer has said he wants testimony from top White House officials, which McConnell seems certain to block. They could provide potentially damaging evidence on Trump’s attempt to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations of Democrats like former Vice President Joseph Biden — the core of the impeachment charges.