Utah Rep. Ben McAdams will vote to impeach President Donald Trump

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ben McAdams leaves the Murray City Hall with his wife, Julie, after announcing that he will vote yes on the House impeachment vote, during news conference at Murray City Hall, Monday, Dec. 16, 2019.

Murray • Rep. Ben McAdams said Monday he will vote to impeach President Donald Trump, arguing that his actions with Ukraine are unacceptable and that the president needs to be held accountable, though the congressman said he doesn’t expect the Senate to remove Trump from office.

It’s a precarious decision for the freshman Democrat, who barely won his seat in a district that Trump carried by 7 percentage points in 2016, but a choice that McAdams said he had to make.

“I cannot turn a blind eye there by condoning this president and future presidents, Republican or Democrat, to do the same. The evidence for me is clear: The president abused the power of his office by demanding a foreign government perform a personal favor. He obstructed Congress and its constitutional duty of oversight by withholding certain documents and central witnesses," McAdams said, reading a statement at Murray City Hall.

“His actions weakened our country and the checks and balances enshrined in our founding documents. I will vote yes, knowing full well the Senate will likely acquit the president in a display of partisan theater that Republicans and Democrats in Washington perform disturbingly well," McAdams continued. "Because of that, I know my vote will not remove the president from office. We must continue to work together as a Congress and as a country. In 11 months, people will ultimately decide President Trump’s fate — not me, or politicians in Washington.”

He took no questions after reading his statement.

McAdams had been one of a handful of House Democrats considering whether to break party ranks and vote with Republicans against impeachment. The Utah congressman was initially hesitant to say he supported the impeachment inquiry and had joined a group of moderate Democrats urging House leaders to consider a censure instead, though that effort quickly fizzled.

Trump’s campaign was swift to respond to McAdams’ decision, pitching it as the Utah Democrat blindly following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lead on the “impeachment sham.”

“Ben McAdams is choosing Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats’ unhinged caucus over his constituents," said Trump campaign spokeswoman Samantha Zager. “Voters won’t forget his cowardice. McAdams’ political career is over.”

That’s just one sign of the political backlash McAdams will face for supporting impeachment, a move that will undoubtedly haunt him as he seeks reelection. Already, outside groups have poured tens of thousands of dollars into online, TV, radio and newspaper ads attacking McAdams over the impeachment vote even before he said which way he would go.

Trump isn’t popular in Utah — he hasn’t breached 50% approval in recent polls — though he’s still the Republican standard-bearer, and that means something in this conservative state.

“McAdams has been attacked by conservative groups since the start of the impeachment inquiry, long before he announced his vote,” said Jason Perry, the head of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics. “Voting for impeachment would escalate and provide ammunition to a growing field of Republican challengers.”

McAdams’ 4th District leans Republican, though Trump won less than 40% there in 2016.

That said, the Democrat won his seat by less than a percentage point in 2018 amid a wave that carried his party to power in the House. It also happened in the same year that ballot initiatives popular with liberals were before Utah voters, such as one legalizing medical marijuana.

“McAdams won in 2018 in part because of higher voter turnout from progressive voters who were also supporting the ballot initiatives,” Perry said. “He may not have that advantage in 2020 and could need more help from the other side of the aisle.”

The impeachment vote is largely expected to fall along party lines.

So far, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota is the only Democrat who is opposing the impeachment articles after Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey vowed to switch his party affiliation. He’s now a Republican opposed to impeachment.

McAdams had been one of the last holdouts among the freshman class of Democrats and the reaction was as expected.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC that has been airing spots going after McAdams, piled on, saying in a statement that the Utah Democrat has “finally admitted he’s no moderate at all.”

“Congressman McAdams’ embrace of the Democrats’ impeachment charade shows just how out of touch he is with his district,” said the group's spokesman Calvin Moore. “Voters will remember that when it mattered most, Congressman McAdams put the radical left’s attempts to remove Trump from office over his constituents.”

Utah Republican Party Chairman Derek Brown said his party is disappointed in the congressman.

“McAdams said that he would be a uniter. He said that he would be the one who reached across the aisle and would govern in a bipartisan way. This decision just shows that he’s forgotten that promise,” Brown said. “He’s basically adopted the Democrat approach of looking for impeachment at any cost. This is exactly what Utahns don’t want, somebody who makes these kinds of decisions and puts politics above people.”

Jeff Merchant, chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, countered that the congressman is “voting his conscience."

“I think that is all we can ask for on a serious vote of this type,” Merchant said. “Given all the investigation that has taken place, it seems clear that the president has not acted in the best interest of the country. A clear majority in the U.S. House of Representatives feels that way.”

McAdams earned kudos from the Alliance for a Better Utah.

“In spite of out-of-state special interest groups dumping tens of thousands of dollars into Utah to try and influence his vote, McAdams is doing the right thing for his constituents and our country,” said the alliance’s Executive Director Chase Thomas. “The evidence is clear and action must be taken to protect the integrity of our elections from foreign influence, especially when that influence is being sought through the power of the presidency. It’s an absolute shame that our other three representatives refuse to do what’s right and are placing party over the good of our country.”

Utah Reps. Rob Bishop, John Curtis and Chris Stewart, all Republicans, have said they will oppose the two impeachment articles of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

McAdams had said last week that he wasn’t concerned with the political consequences of his vote on impeachment and that he’s made other tough choices while in elected office — as Salt Lake County mayor previously, he made a controversial decision on a homeless shelter — but that he had to vote the way he thought was best, politics be damned.

“I don’t know what this decision means for me or where it goes from here, but what I decided is I need to make a decision that is the next right thing and let the consequences be what they are,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune.

McAdams, on Monday, berated the current Washington environment where members of both parties retreat to their corners and are more eager to throw mud than compromise.

In his 11 months in Congress, McAdams said he's been “disappointed and distressed” by both parties.

“Some Democrats are all too gleeful about the serious matter before us. And they reflexively oppose anything the president does or proposes,” McAdams said. “House Republicans have dismissed the testimony of lifelong public servants who have implicated the president in alarming behavior. … Democrats and Republicans in Congress have conducted themselves in a way over the last decade, and especially in the last year, that neither party has the public’s confidence to fulfill this serious duty with credibility. They have squandered the trust the Constitution and the American public demand of them in these serious times.”

In the end, though, McAdams said the only choice before him was about whether to impeach the president and not how to fix the system. To impeach, he said, was the only way to fulfill his obligation as a member of Congress.

“My duty is to the Constitution, and to our country,” he said. “What the president did was wrong. His actions warrant accountability.”

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