House Republicans narrow in on potential Democratic defectors for final impeachment votes

Republican leaders are focused on as many as eight Democrats from districts Trump won in 2016.
Image: Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy Holds Weekly Press Conference
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Ca., speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill on Dec. 12, 2019.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

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By Leigh Ann Caldwell

WASHINGTON — Confident that their ranks will remain united in the final House votes on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, Republicans are turning their attention to Democrats, hoping to pressure at least a handful into joining them in opposition, according to two Republican House aides.

In particular, Republicans are focusing on as many as eight Democrats who have indicated that they remain undecided on the matter, according to one aide with knowledge of the effort. Those eight are part of a group of 31 who won their seats in 2018 from districts also carried by Trump in 2016.

“Some of our members will do informal outreach to Democrats on the fence they have relationships with,” a second GOP aide told NBC News. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy has also been talking with some Democrats, according to an second aide familiar with the conversations.

The Democrats at the top of the list include Reps. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Ben McAdams of Utah, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Anthony Brindisi of New York and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, according to one of the GOP aides.

Final votes on the articles are expected in the full House next week after they were passed in a party-line vote by the House Judiciary Committee Friday morning.

Slotkin said she’s been lobbied by Republicans on the House floor.

“I had a Republican colleague who I’ve worked with before on a bunch of issues come up and give me a very detailed, thoughtful explanation of why I should vote against articles of impeachment,” Slotkin told NBC News last week.

And the across-the-aisle personal lobbying in the Capitol is being reinforced with an aggressive, multi-million dollar political effort in their home districts.

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For example, the American Action Network, an outside political group that works to elect Republicans to the House, has spent more than $1.5 million on campaign ads focused on impeachment since December 10 in those districts as well as the districts represented by Reps. Jared Golden of Maine, Susie Lee of Nevada and Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico. Those ads are slated to run through the votes in the full House of Representatives next week.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said impeachment is a vote of conscience and maintains that Democrats aren't pressuring their members on which way to vote.

"We are not whipping this legislation," Pelosi told reporters on Thursday. "People have to come to their own conclusions."

Rep. Anthony Brindisi, another Democrat from a red district in upstate New York, said he’s not feeling pressure from Democratic leadership but is hearing from constituents.

“The phone is ringing off the hook — both people calling pro-impeachment and people calling against impeachment,” he told NBC News. “And so, we take all of that into consideration and I'm going to take some time this weekend and go back and look at all these transcripts and make sure all the evidence fits the articles of impeachment.”

Two critical swing district Democrats have announced their support for impeachment articles. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., told reporters Thursday that she is going to support both articles of impeachment regardless of the lasting political impacts.

“I think it's equally important today as it will be six months from now to say that I stood up against the President when he did something wrong,” Luria said.

And Rep. Conor Lamb , D-Pa., told Pittsburgh affiliate WTAE that he’ll also vote for the articles.

For Democrats in districts Trump carried in 2016, the decision is fraught with political peril for next November's elections, especially because the president's supporters remain mostly united behind him.

A small group of moderate Democrats floated a last-minute proposal of censure instead of impeachment but abandoned the idea when it quickly became clear that such a move would not garner support among the broader Democratic caucus, according to an aide for one of those members.

Rep. Van Drew of New Jersey is one Democrat who has already said he will oppose the impeachment articles.

“My district is red — a good chunk of it — and they're definitely anti-impeachment. And then I have the part that is purple, and they are more pro-impeachment. So whatever you do," Van Drew said, "you're going to aggravate people.”

Rep. Cherie Bustos, D-Ill., who runs the House Democrats campaign arm, the DCCC, acknowledges that voters in swing districts care most about pocketbook issues.

“Good people have no problem with us seeking the truth," Bustos told NBC News. “They also want to make sure we are moving forward on prescription drug and health care costs. That is still the number one thing out of people’s mouths.”

In an attempt to show they can legislate and impeach at the same time and to give moderate Democrats achievements to champion, the House passed a bill aimed at lowering prescription drugs on Thursday. And the DCCC released new digital ads immediately after promoting the bill’s passage.

This comes at the end of a productive week where they passed a national defense bill that includes paid parental leave for government employees and reached an agreement on the USMCA trade deal.

Haley Talbot contributed.