‘I am not on the fence': Ben McAdams throws his support behind Trump impeachment inquiry

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Ben McAdams on Friday said that while he will not prejudge the outcome of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, a formal probe is necessary to determine the facts. McAdams’ Oct. 4, 2019 remarks came after a gathering at the Midvale Senior Center. He began the event with a brief statement on the impeachment inquiry and declined to take questions before pivoting to the scheduled topic of the town hall: health and wellness.

Midvale • Rep. Ben McAdams on Friday offered his most direct assessment yet of the burgeoning impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, saying that while he will not prejudge the outcome, a formal probe is necessary to determine the facts.

The show of support for an inquiry closed out a disorganized two-day period for the Utah Democrat, who on Thursday declined to comment on impeachment before releasing an ambiguous written statement, and then on Friday was prompted to clarify his position after first reading what he called the “wrong version” of prepared remarks as he visited a senior center.

“The president’s refusal to further cooperate with congressional oversight, without an impeachment inquiry, is regrettable,” McAdams said Friday in his updated comments. “We find ourselves today at the point that an [impeachment] inquiry is necessary to get all of the facts on the table.”

But some in attendance at Friday’s event remained unsatisfied with McAdams’ comments and asked him to unequivocally state whether he would vote in support of impeaching the president. One woman, Sandy resident Jamie Zayach, interrupted McAdams at various points and followed him out of the room, pressing for additional comment.

“I want an answer,” Zayach said.

McAdams reiterated that while he supports a launch of the impeachment process, he will not stake a position on impeaching the president until that process concludes.

“I am not on the fence,” McAdams said. “It is my duty to allow this process to play out without partisanship and with impartiality.”

While the House has the power to impeach the president — an action analogous to a criminal indictment — the U.S. Senate is empowered to hold a trial and vote to either acquit or convict and remove the commander in chief from office.

House Democrats formally launched an impeachment inquiry last month after a whistleblower complaint accused Trump of urging the president of Ukraine to open an investigation into a top political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and accused White House staff of inappropriately acting to hide the content of that conversation.

Trump has defended his conversation with the Ukranian president as appropriate and on Thursday publicly encouraged China to launch its own investigation of Biden based on unsubstantiated corruption allegations.

Before Friday, McAdams had been reluctant to join his House Democratic colleagues in backing the inquiry, remarking on the need for impartiality but largely dodging reporters’ questions on whether he, individually, saw a need for a formal impeachment probe. The Associated Press listed him as one of six House Democrats not backing at least the investigation, while The New York Times said he was one of 10.

During a Thursday media event, McAdams directed questions on impeachment to his press secretary, Alyson Heyrend, who was dismissive when asked by reporters whether McAdams supported the House impeachment investigations.

“It doesn’t matter,” Heyrend said. “It’s underway.”

McAdams later issued a written statement stressing the need for congressional oversight and comparing his role to that of a juror in a court proceeding. That led to Friday’s town hall, where the freshman congressman took two attempts at stating his position before exiting the senior center amid shouts from constituents.

“The president’s actions yesterday, as well as allegations that he has abused his power and harmed our national security for his own personal gain, are serious,” McAdams said Friday in his first statement, “and they demand attention from Congress, where we have a constitutional duty to conduct oversight.”

McAdams had initially intended to not take questions from the media Friday, saying he preferred to focus on the scheduled topic for the town hall meeting: health and wellness.

“We have other work to do,” McAdams said, “and we can not allow this issue to paralyze a Washington that is already low on results.”

McAdams’ political position is unique in that he is the lone Democrat in Utah’s federal delegation, and one of a handful of congressional Democrats who represent predominantly Republican districts. In 2018, he narrowly won his election against then-Rep. Mia Love by fewer than 700 votes.

Quin Monson, an associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University who consulted for Love, said McAdams’ reticence on the question of impeachment is understandable given the political makeup of the district.

And while some congressional Democrats have been reluctant to support impeachment, Monson said, some congressional Republicans have hedged in their support for Trump.

“The president is not making it easy for candidates in competitive districts on both sides of the aisle,” Monson said.

Monson said the dynamic facing McAdams is akin to a “Political Science 101” lesson, in that he’s facing conflicting pressures from House leadership, primary election voters and general election voters.

“Maybe he doesn’t want to be the last Democrat in Washington to announce his support,” Monson said.

Jim Curry, an associate political science professor at the University of Utah, said McAdams was already facing a hard reelection in 2020, which makes it difficult to predict how the impeachment issue will impact his standing in the race next year.

“No matter which way you come down,” Curry said, “you’re going to anger a large number of people.”