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Representative Jeff Van Drew, anti-impeachment Democrat, considers switching parties

Representative Jeff Van Drew.
Representative Jeff Van Drew.Mel Evans/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, a moderate Democrat who is among his party’s staunchest opponents of impeaching President Donald Trump, is considering switching parties and could make an announcement as soon as next week, just as the House is voting on impeachment.

Van Drew has had discussions with senior Trump advisers about securing the president’s support for his switch, a blessing that could help him avert a primary challenge next year in what would be his new party, according to two Democrats and one Republican who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Van Drew’s benefit to Trump would be more immediate: the high-profile defection would help soften the blow of becoming the third president ever to be impeached.

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The congressman did not immediately respond to a message left on his cellphone.

Conversations between Van Drew and top advisers to Trump intensified late last week, according to a Republican familiar with the discussions, with the New Jersey freshman making clear he was nervous about losing his seat, either in a Democratic primary or the general election.

Van Drew is serious enough about the possible switch that he has discussed which day to make an announcement and whether to time it immediately before or after the House votes on two articles of impeachment, which are expected Wednesday, according to Republicans and Democrats.

A freshman lawmaker from a historically Republican-leaning southern New Jersey district, Van Drew has already made clear he won’t support impeachment, which has triggered talk of a liberal primary challenger.

“I don’t see anything there worthy of actually taking a president out of office,” he said earlier in the week.

Van Drew was one of two House Democrats who opposed the investigation into Trump. That stance has made him the target of sharp criticism from progressive activists and protests outside his district office. Perhaps more notable, his state’s machine-aligned Democratic leaders have also gone public with their own discomfort over his stance.

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“I am imploring you to vote in favor of impeachment,” Michael Suleiman, the Atlantic County Democratic chairman, wrote in a letter to Van Drew, warning about repercussions for other Democrats.

“A ‘no’ vote on impeachment will suppress Democratic turnout down-ballot, which my organization cannot sustain.”

A former state senator, Van Drew represents a congressional district the president won by about five points in 2016. Van Drew won the seat more easily thanks to a Republican opponent who made racist comments and lost his backing from the national party.

But congressional Republicans were already targeting Van Drew, considering him a top target in their effort to take back the House.