WASHINGTON – New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, the lone Democratic congressman to come out against the impeachment of President Donald Trump, will become a Republican next week, multiple Democratic sources told USA TODAY.
The president approached Van Drew about switching parties during a meeting Friday that was first reported by the Washington Post. The sources confirmed the meeting and that the freshmen lawmaker from the South Jersey district that voted for Trump in 2016 would be announcing a switch to the GOP sometime next week.
Van Drew did not respond immediately to a phone call and text message asking for comment.
In an interview last month with USA TODAY, Van Drew described as “unsavory” the president’s actions regarding Ukraine that are the subject of the impeachment articles headed for a full House vote next week.
But he said he opposes impeachment because it would fracture the nation and dismissed criticism from progressives in his district that his defection was helping the GOP.
“It isn’t because I’m a tremendous defender of the president. It isn’t because I’m going to turn Republican. It isn’t because I am Republican or shilling for Republicans,” he said. “It is because I think impeachment is a very, very serious issue.”
In the interview explaining his opposition to an Oct. 31 resolution authorizing the impeachment inquiry, Van Drew said he was “proud to be a Democrat.”
“I’ve always been a Democrat,” he said. “But our job is to represent the American people.”
Although Van Drew had opposed impeachment, he faced a backlash from Democratic voters in his own district for the decision. And it seems possible a party switch may lift his reelection chances.
According to a poll from Van Drew’s campaign obtained by USA TODAY, only 24% of Democratic primary voters in his district thought Van Drew should be reelected. Sixty percent wanted someone new.
Signaling potential electoral trouble for him, 71% of Democratic primary voters said they would be “less likely” to support Van Drew in 2020 if he voted against impeachment.
In the interview with USA TODAY last month, Van Drew said he would remain a Democrat despite opposing impeachment.
“I’m proud to be a Democrat,” he said. I’ve never been anything but. .. I’ve always been a Democrat. But our job is to represent the American people.”
Van Drew has already endorsed a Democrat for president: Sen. Cory Booker, a fellow member of the New Jersey congressional delegation.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, slammed the decision as “cynical and desperate” in a statement.
“Jeff Van Drew has chosen his political career over our Constitution,” Murphy said. “Despite knowing full well that the President has abused the powers of his office, Congressman Van Drew is now willing to enable Donald Trump just to try to salvage his own election.”
Michael Suleiman, the chair of the Atlantic County Democratic Committee, told USA TODAY Van Drew was a “coward.”
“Good riddance. The Republicans can have him,” he said.
“If he runs as a Republican, we’ll kick his butt,” he added.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump impeachment: Jeff Van Drew to switch parties, run as Republican