Back home, battleground Democrats encounter support — but not hunger — for impeachment

As lawmakers meet with constituents during the break, some are finding the impeachment process greeted by little pushback, some support — but mostly, a competing set of voter priorities.
Image: U.S. Representative Max Rose (D-NY) speaks during a Town Hall Meeting in Staten Island, New York
Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., during a Town Hall meeting in Staten Island, New York, on Oct. 2, 2019.Andrew Kelly / Reuters

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By Lauren Egan

RHINEBECK, N.Y. — It was his first town hall at home since he announced his support for an impeachment inquiry a week earlier. Rep. Anthony Delgado, a first-term Democrat whose rural swing district includes this scenic town on the Hudson River, thought he knew what was coming.

“This district is politically diverse — a third independent, a third Democrat, and a third Republican. If we can’t figure out how to get along here, how to find common ground here, I worry,” Delgado said. He then delicately explained how he had arrived at his decision to support impeachment proceedings to the dozens of constituents who flooded a community center here Tuesday night.

“For those who have been following me and understand how I’ve tried to be as deliberative and thoughtful as I can be in this incredibly divisive and partisan time, you know that it took me some time to get to a point where I felt comfortable coming out for impeachment,” he said.

But the blowback he feared never appeared.

Instead, his comments were met with a loud round of applause from nearly everyone in the room.

Delgado’s district — which turned blue in the 2018 midterms after voting for Donald Trump in 2016 — represents a part of the country where the demographics might suggest that constituents would be frustrated by the recent support among House Democrats for pursuing an impeachment inquiry.

But during Delgado’s nearly two-hour town hall on Tuesday, only one person, a vocal Trump supporter, was openly critical of the process.

Many constituents instead said they recognized the seriousness of Trump’s request that the Ukrainian president investigate a domestic political opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, and the impact it could have on national security. And many expressed their appreciation for the time and thought Delgado gave to formulate his opinion on impeachment, pointing to the fact that he did not rush to a conclusion over the summer when special counsel Robert Mueller ended his investigation.

“It didn't bother me. I was impressed with him,” said Charles Dykas, a retired resident of Dutchess County, when asked about Delgado’s support for impeachment. “He didn’t rush to judgment. He waited until, I think, there was overwhelming evidence that we needed an inquiry and that’s fine with me. He’s just doing his job.”

“I think he played it smart,” Lynn Itzkow of Rhinebeck told NBC. “I think it's not that risky of a thing to say now. I think people are ready.”

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the impeachment inquiry

As Congress left Washington for a two-week recess just three days after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., formally announced the impeachment inquiry, many were unsure what kind of reaction awaited them back home.

But Delgado’s town hall event mirrors conversations that House Democrats are having around the country as they meet with constituents to gauge where the country stands on the inquiry.

Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., another first-term member who flipped a Trump district in 2018, was one of the few remaining holdouts when he took the stage at a transportation town hall on Staten Island Wednesday night. But he opened the meeting by announcing for the first time his support for an inquiry.

“I will not shirk my duty and I will not violate my oath. I will support and I will defend the United States Constitution,” Rose, a military veteran, said. “And it is for that reason that I intend to fully support this impeachment inquiry and follow the facts.”

Even some who came to Rose’s town hall with initial skepticism about impeachment expressed an appreciation for the careful consideration that some Democrats, such as Rose, appeared to be giving to the issue.

“It’s a lot of mixed emotions. Everybody is confused. One news station tells you one thing, another one tells you another thing,” said Kevin, a 32-year-old man from Staten Island who asked to withhold his full name because Trump can be a divisive topic among his community. “I appreciate that [Rose] touched base on it. I really respect that and I like what he’s doing and think he’s a good guy. We’re just trying to make sense of it all.”

Before Rose spoke, John Moss, 63, a veteran and a retired postal worker, said that he hoped the congressman would come out in favor of impeachment, adding that he didn’t see it as a risk to do so.

“A lot of people like Max Rose. Max Rose has helped a lot of people. So to me, he’s a peoples’ person. He’s well liked all over the place. So whether he calls for it or not, I don’t think it would hurt him here,” Moss said.

On Wednesday afternoon in East Lansing, Michigan, in a district that Trump carried in 2016, Rep. Elissa Slotkin — one of the seven freshman Democrats who wrote a recent joint op-ed piece in The Washington Post in support of impeachment — crammed into a coffee shop overcrowded with constituents to walk them through her decision-making process, and why she opted to support the inquiry.

Although some protesters gathered outside, mentions of the article were met with applause. And when she invited someone from the audience who opposed the impeachment inquiry to ask a question, no one raised their hand.

A flurry of recent polls have suggested impeachment may be gaining popularity among Americans, with more now saying they support it than those who oppose it, even among some of Trump’s key voting blocs.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the House, released a polling memo Thursday that, they say, supports the claim that impeachment is risky business for Democrats in swing districts.

“Two-thirds (63 percent) of voters in NRCC target seats and 66 percent of voters in Republican-held battleground seats agree that Democrats in Congress are too obsessed with impeaching the President,” according to the memo. The shrinking number of Democrats who have not yet come out in favor of impeachment action of some kind — in a caucus where more than 95 percent now hold that position — all come from districts that Trump won in 2016.

The NRCC's numbers do highlight a real concern expressed by Democratic lawmakers: Although voters might be more open to impeachment, that does not necessarily translate into a desire to see Democrats make it a top priority when they head back to Washington next week.

“The people of America are looking to get prescription drugs done, to get other health care issues taken care of," Rep. Tom O'Halleran, D-Ariz., said last week, then an impeachment holdout. "We have no choice but to make sure we work on those still."

Soon after, he publicly backed the impeachment inquiry.

At Delgado’s town hall, only two of the dozen or so questions asked were related to impeachment. Most attendees asked about climate change, income inequality and health care. At Rose’s event, which was billed as a transportation town hall, the conversation largely stayed on that topic, with queries on the high cost of tolls and traffic congestion.

“Locally, I don’t hear about [impeachment] in the coffee shop,” said Dykas, the Delgado constituent. “It’s not really something we’re talking about. It’s just more of a ‘do your job’ attitude toward Congress.”

Garrett Haake and Rebecca Shabad contributed.