Democrat 'to switch parties and oppose impeachment' as Republicans rally round Trump before vote
A Democratic congressman is expected to switch party allegiances and vote against impeaching Donald Trump on Wednesday, joining Republican members who have rallied round the US president ahead of the historic decision.
Jeff Van Drew, elected only last year in a traditionally Republican district in New Jersey, is reportedly set to cross the aisle either just before or after voting to reject the two articles of impeachment being debated on Wednesday.
Mr Van Drew’s predicted defection has horrified his congressional staff, who have resigned en masse, but won acclaim from Mr Trump at this moment of grave political peril.
“Congressman Jeff Van Drew is very popular in our great and very united Republican Party,” Mr Trump tweeted, previewing a defection not yet formalised.
“It was a tribute to him that he was able to win his heavily Republican district as a Democrat. People like that are not easily replaceable!”
Mr Van Drew has not commented publicly, but also not denied the widespread speculation about his defection. He faces a tough battle to hold onto his seat next year.
The news gave Mr Trump a timely boost ahead of what is expected to be one of his darkest days in office – his formal impeachment by the US House of Representatives.
Congressmen will debate two articles of impeachment on Wednesday, one of abuse of power and the other of obstruction of Congress. Both relate to Mr Trump’s behaviour in the Ukraine investigations scandal.
Mr Trump is all but certain to be impeached, given the Democrats have a majority in the House, making him only the third president in US history to suffer the ignominy.
Andrew Johnson, who took over the presidency after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, was impeached in 1868 after being seen as too sympathetic to the defeated Confederacy.
Bill Clinton was impeached after lying under oath about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky in 1998. Richard Nixon, who faced an impeachment push, resigned before a vote was held.
Impeachment – a device included in the US Constitution for removing government officials – does not guarantee Mr Trump’s departure from office.
That decision will be taken by the Senate, which is preparing to hold a trial on the matter in January.
The chance of removal from office is slim given 67 of the 100 senators would need to support the move, meaning at least 20 Republicans would have to forgo their party allegiance and vote against the president.
Mr Trump’s fury at the impeachment push, which he has characterised as a “witch hunt” and repeatedly lashed out at in public, appears to have shored up any doubts among Republican congressmen.
All Republican members in the House are expected to vote against the articles of impeachment, while a handful of Democrat rebels – including Mr Van Drew – could join them in opposing the move.
Failing to win a single Republican vote would weaken the Democratic leadership’s attempt to portray the impeachment drive as a necessary step to protect the country and above party politics.
The impeachment vote comes just thee months after an impeachment inquiry was called by the Democrats over Mr Trump’s attempt to secure politically helpful investigations from Ukraine.
It emerged that Mr Trump had urged Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy to launch an investigation into Joe Biden, the former US vice president he could face at the 2020 election, and Hunter Biden, Mr Biden’s son who worked for a Ukrainian gas company.
The abuse of power article accuses Mr Trump of harming the country’s interests for his own political benefit by holding back almost $400 million in military aid from Ukraine and the prospect of a White House meeting with Mr Zelenskiy to secure the investigations.
The obstruction of Congress article alleges Mr Trump ordered “without lawful cause or excuse” his government’s officials not to give testimony to the impeachment inquiry or hand over vital documents, undercutting the probe into his own conduct.
Mr Trump and his allies have vehemently denied both claims.