2 Democratic Representatives From New Jersey Differ On Impeaching Trump
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The Democratic Party is unified on its disapproval of President Trump, but the party is divided on the issue of impeachment. And it's not just across the party nationally. Lawmakers representing people in the same state are divided on this issue. Take New Jersey, for example - the townships of Brick and Warren are in competitive districts that elected Democrats to the House in 2018. But those freshman Democrats have different views on whether to start an impeachment inquiry.
Here's NPR's Tim Mak.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: Democratic Congressman Tom Malinowski spent some time over the House recess getting grilled by some of his most outspoken constituents. He was going to take questions from sixth-graders at Warren Middle School.
MAK: The precocious students grilled him on the plight of the Uighurs in China, the high level of taxes in New Jersey, his view on gay rights. And then an 11-year-old named Bodhi Lee stood up to ask a question.
BODHI: I wanted to ask you a question on how Donald Trump has conducted himself. And do you think he has done an impeachable offense?
MAK: Malinowski is currently the only Democrat in a swing district to support opening an impeachment inquiry into the president.
TOM MALINOWSKI: First and foremost, voters here want me to fight for their interests. And that means transportation. That means lowering the cost of health care. But you know what? I also hear a lot from voters about decency, about checks and balances, about the rule of law. And so I do believe that we need to at least begin an inquiry.
MAK: By taking this stand, the first-term congressman is exposing himself to political jeopardy. Al Gaburo, chairman of the Somerset County Republicans, immediately seized on Malinowski's impeachment position.
AL GABURO: Tom Malinowski not only is well out of step with most of the constituents in the 7th congressional district, I think he's entirely too liberal for this district.
MAK: Democratic leaders are under increasing pressure as lawmakers return to the Capitol after a week-long break, with nearly 60 House Democrats now calling for impeachment. But the nation is not there. Fifty-four percent of Americans surveyed in a new CNN poll say that they oppose impeachment, while 41% support it. Penelope Malakates, a Democrat, supports impeachment. But at a diner in Malinowski's district, she told us she doesn't think the average voter has the bandwidth to worry about it.
PENELOPE MALAKATES: I have two little kids. And I've been thinking about going back to work and find it cost-prohibitive. So I know that a lot of other people are in that same boat. Childcare, education - the things that make an actual life work.
MAK: And here's James Martin, who supports Malinowski but not on this issue.
JAMES MARTIN: I don't believe in the impeachment. I don't think that that's the right process myself.
MAK: Another freshman, Andy Kim, a Democrat from a district to the south, won his seat by less than 4,000 votes in 2018. He doesn't support impeachment and said he rarely gets asked about it by constituents. Over the recess, he visited a VA facility in New Jersey, where he brainstormed with officials about how to get vets the health care they need.
ANDY KIM: When it comes to the issues happening in D.C., I mean, you know, I think a lot of people are so skeptical about what's happening there and so tired of just sort of politics as usual and the partisan knife-fighting.
MAK: In Kim's district, we found voters worried that impeachment would distract from more pressing issues.
BARBARA PETRIELLO: If I go back to the Clinton era, when we focused all that time on impeachment, I think we missed some of the signs of what was to be 9/11.
MAK: That's Barbara Petriello in Brick, N.J. outside a local council meeting.
PETRIELLO: So it scares me that we would be focusing so much on impeachment rather than safety and the issues that are really much more important to people sitting around the kitchen table - you know, their paychecks, their health care, where - are their kids getting a good education, college loans, those kinds of things.
MAK: So while conversation in Congress is centering on whether or not to start impeachment, some voters in swing districts that gave Democrats the majority are asking to pump the brakes a little. In these two areas, we see a microcosm of the overall Democratic caucus as it struggles with this question.
Tim Mak, NPR News, Washington.
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