NEW YORK — Rep. Max Rose really wanted to talk about traffic. And with Staten Islanders enduring some of the country’s longest commutes, so did his constituents.
But those at a town hall event Wednesday night knew that any discussion of congestion pricing and express ferries was likely to be eclipsed by questions about the New York Democrat’s position on the House’s impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s Ukraine dealings.
So Rose, a vulnerable freshman who had been one of only a handful of House Democrats not backing the inquiry, got his announcement out of the way quickly.
“While the president of the United States may be willing to violate the Constitution to get reelected, I will not,” he said. “It’s for that reason I intend to fully support this impeachment inquiry.”
Rose said he opposes “a rush to judgement” but will “follow the facts where they lead, no matter the consequences.”
The announcement won loud applause from the audience. And for the next hour, his Q&A session focused largely on commuting issues.
Flipped Trump district
The episode drew attention to the predicament the ongoing impeachment inquiry poses for Democrats, like Rose, who represent battleground districts won by Trump in 2016.
Rose’s support for the inquiry came a day after a pro-impeachment Democratic primary challenger, Richard-Olivier Marius, criticized his position in an interview with a local news outlet. And minutes after Rose made his announcement, Republican state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, a likely GOP opponent, issued a statement saying he had “caved to socialists.”
“It just shows that when pressure is applied, Max Rose stands with the radical left instead of Staten Island,” Malliotakis said.
One of 43 Democrats who flipped GOP seats in last year’s midterms, Rose unseated Republican Dan Donovan in New York’s 11th District by 6 points, an impressive showing given Trump won the seat by 10 points two years earlier. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Rose’s reelection race a Toss-up.
An Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, Rose was not among a group of House Democrats with national security backgrounds who announced their support for the inquiry last week following revelations about a whistleblower complaint accusing Trump of pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
In a separate statement last week, Rose said “all options must be on the table” but did not back the formal impeachment inquiry announced by Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sept. 24.
Not ‘politically astute’
Speaking to reporters Wednesday night, Rose said that his new position had “nothing whatsoever” to do with the primary challenge and that he was not afraid of Republican criticism.
“You talk to any political expert, and they would not say that what I’m doing now is the most politically astute thing,” he said. “I’m not concerned at all about the [National Republican Congressional Committee] or anyone who wants to challenge me.”
Rose’s support for the inquiry won the praise of Democrats in the audience who had hoped to hear him elaborate on his position. George Concepcion, a Staten Island resident and registered Democrat, said he understood why Rose would take a cautious approach.
“It can be a difficult district, and I take him for his word,” Concepcion said. “He needs more information, more evidence and more reason to vote for impeachment, and in time, I think he’ll do the right thing.”
But Rose’s support for the inquiry may cost him crucial support among undecided voters. Deidre Piccolino, who said she voted for Trump in 2016 and Rose last year, told CQ Roll Call before the event that her opinion of Rose would change if he backed impeachment.
“I like Trump, I like what he’s doing, I think he’s good for the country,” she said.
Still, Piccolino wasn’t in the audience to hear about impeachment. Her highest concern remains the 25 minutes she said it takes to drive her son to school eight blocks away.
If Rose can find a way to fix some of the worst traffic in America, it seems he may find way to keep his seat in Congress, too.