White House bets some Democrats like Utah’s Ben McAdams will vote against impeaching Trump

(Thomas Burr | The Salt Lake Tribune) White House Senior Adviser for Strategy Tony Sayegh and Special Adviser to the President Pam Bondi brief reporters on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, about the ongoing impeachment inquiry and possible Senate trial of President Donald Trump. Trump hired the two to mount a strategy to combat Democratic charges against him.

Washington • The White House says some Democrats in swing districts — including Rep. Ben McAdams of Utah — may vote against impeachment because their constituents oppose the move and they could face a backlash for engaging in the effort to remove President Donald Trump.

“I don’t think this is going to be a vote on party lines,” Pam Bondi, a former Florida attorney general and now special adviser to the president, said Thursday. “I think a lot of Democrats are going to do the right thing.”

Bondi and colleague Tony Sayegh, senior adviser for strategy, are heading Trump’s media war room in combating the impeachment inquiry and both are bullish on the chances Trump will escape removal and even boost his poll numbers.

“I believe we’ve already won it. We’re winning it,” Bondi told a group of reporters Thursday when asked about the impeachment inquiry. “We’re winning the fight. You’ve seen the ratings [on the hearings]; they’re down on this. No one’s watching it.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday directed House committee heads to draft articles of impeachment against the president that could include abuse of power, obstruction of justice and obstruction of Congress over the president’s dealings with Ukraine.

Trump withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military and State Department aid to Ukraine and a White House meeting with its new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, while at the same time asking Zelenskiy to announce investigations into a company tied to the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential contender. Trump also sought a probe of a debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

Republicans say Trump was simply trying to root out corruption abroad before handing out taxpayer money while Democrats see it as a clear-cut case of extortion to help Trump’s personal interests.

“The president leaves us no choice but to act, because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit,” Pelosi said Thursday.

Bondi and Sayegh see it much differently, repeatedly referring to the inquiry as “unfair” and pitching it as coastal elites trying to undo the votes of 62 million Americans who wanted Trump in office.

“They want to ramrod a sham impeachment,” Sayegh said.

That's a key point, the White House team argues, that will result in some Democrats breaking ranks and opposing a vote to impeach Trump.

Bondi and Sayegh also say that members such as McAdams — who won a district that Trump carried in 2016 by 7 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton — will side with constituents who are more worried about keeping the economy strong, lowering prescription drug prices and passing trade deals.

With the impeachment sucking up much of the oxygen on Capitol Hill, the White House says more and more Americans will grow tired of the inquiry and inaction on legislation that impacts their lives.

“That sets up a very dangerous path forward for Democrats, particularly the 31 who live in districts that the president won, in some cases overwhelmingly,” said Sayegh. “If they go along with the sham, take their eye off the ball of serving the people, I think there's going to be a significant price to pay at the ballot box.”

To underscore that point, Bondi and Sayegh are engaging in their own media campaign, speaking to TV and radio stations and local reporters outside the national news media environs. On the same day The Washington Post published a profile of the two White House officials — in which Bondi and Sayegh declined comment — they sat down with a handful of regional newspaper reporters at the White House complex for an on-the-record discussion.

While it seems clear the House, where Democrats hold an 18-seat majority, has the votes to impeach Trump, the White House says Democrats won’t vote in lockstep and Republicans will stick together.

“I’m very certain that we’ll have more Democrats voting against impeachment than we’ll have Republicans voting for it," Sayegh said, “because Republicans are unified 100 percent behind the president.”

Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey Democrat who was one of two in his party to vote against the impeachment inquiry resolution, told CNN on Thursday that he would vote against all articles of impeachment “unless there’s something that I haven’t seen, haven’t heard before.”

McAdams, who initially didn't back the impeachment inquiry and said he was more focused on issues facing Utahns, said Thursday that he isn't sure how he'll ultimately vote on impeaching the president.

“I’m taking the time to review all the facts and the evidence,” McAdams said. “I’ll make a decision following that consideration and do what I think is right on behalf of Utah.”

McAdams, a freshman who previously served as Salt Lake County mayor, said the actions by Trump are “very troubling and the allegations of wrongdoing are serious.”

If there’s one thing the White House and McAdams agree on, it’s the circus atmosphere that has surrounded the rare and serious move to impeach a president.

“I am frustrated by the theatrics on both sides of the aisle during this impeachment process,” McAdams said. “In my less than one year here, I’ve been disappointed at the extreme levels of partisanship, hampering progress on important challenges facing our country.”

The House could vote on impeachment this month, possibly Dec. 20, the same day the federal budget lapses to set up a possible government shutdown. The Senate, controlled by Republicans, would then hold a trial where the White House plans to present witnesses, unlike in the House, where the administration instructed officials not to participate in the inquiry.