New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, whose election to a GOP-held district last fall helped Democrats flip the House, plans to switch parties after meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on Friday, according to multiple Garden State sources.
Members of his party were already wishing him good riddance.
“This party switch is cynical and desperate, and I am confident that a Democrat who shares the values and priorities of our Democratic Party will hold this seat,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted Saturday night.
Van Drew had already announced he planned to vote against two articles of impeachment against the president on the House floor this week. Van Drew was one of only two Democrats — both members of the more conservative Blue Dog Coalition — who voted against an impeachment resolution in the House in October.
His vote had sparked chatter about a primary against him, but Van Drew had repeatedly said he wasn’t concerned. His campaign conducted a poll Dec. 7-10 that showed a majority of likely Democratic voters in the 2nd District in South Jersey preferred “another Democrat” win the nomination, according to a partial polling memo obtained by CQ Roll Call. More than 70 percent of likely Democratic voters said they’d be less likely to vote for Van Drew if he voted against impeachment.
The CEO of TargetSmart, which surveyed 390 likely Democratic voters for Van Drew for the poll, tweeted Saturday that he’d work to defeat Van Drew in 2020.
GOP took old legislative district
Van Drew also saw Republicans last month sweep the district he had represented in the state Assembly and state Senate from 2002 through 2018.
“Things like sanctuary cities, driver’s licenses for illegals, and impeachment, none of that played very well down there,” said state Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, a Republican from Morris County in North Jersey who last week publicly encouraged Van Drew to switch.
One member of the New Jersey delegation said Saturday the party switch was “all but a done deal” after Van Drew’s meeting with the president.
Five members of Van Drew’s staff in his Washington office — Javier Gamboa, Edward Kaczmarski, Justin M. O’Leary, Mackenzie Lucas and Caroline Wood — jointly resigned in a letter to chief of staff Allison Murphy dated Sunday. They said they joined to serve the people of Van Drew’s district and his decision to join a party led by Trump “does not align with the values we brought to this job.”
“Over the past year, Trump Republicans have sided with special interests over the needs of working people,” the letter said. “Worse, they continue to aid and abet Trump as he shreds the Constitution and tears the country apart.”
Van Drew had told reporters the president’s actions don’t rise to the serious level of high crimes and misdemeanors spelled out in the Constitution as causes for impeachment.
“I’m concerned about splitting our nation apart,” he said earlier this week. “I’m concerned about the fact that we really could have had other mechanisms and ways to do it.”
Van Drew also cited the likelihood Trump would benefit from being exonerated in the Senate.
“He’s going to be able to go all over the country and say he was found not guilty,” Van Drew said. “So I don’t know that that’s a real goal of what [Democrats] would have [wanted].”
Leading up to his decision, he said he never felt pressure from Democratic leadership or colleagues in Congress but noted some coming from “very strong Democrat, straight D constituents who vote completely D who will say, ‘Gee we’re disappointed, you know, we think you should have voted for it.’”
Trump carried New Jersey’s 2nd District by just shy of 5 points in 2016, though Democrat Barack Obama carried it in both 2008 and 2012. Republican Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo decided not to seek reelection in 2018, and Van Drew won the open seat by nearly 8 points. It was one of four Republican-held districts Democrats won in New Jersey last year, which had given the party an 11-1 edge in the state delegation.
Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rated the 2nd District race Tilts Democratic. Van Drew had nearly $932,000 in his campaign account as of Sept. 30, according to disclosures with the Federal Election Commission, after raising and spending about $1.9 million in the 2018 cycle. An email blast from his campaign Saturday afternoon, which could have been programmed earlier, urged supporters to attend a Jan. 21 fundraiser for Van Drew and Democratic New Jersey “frontliners,” including two-term Rep. Josh Gottheimer and freshmen Reps. Andy Kim, Tom Malinowski and Mikie Sherrill.
When Van Drew took office in January, he opposed making Nancy Pelosi speaker. He voted “no” during the roll call when she was chosen. He serves on the Agriculture and Natural Resources committees.
This year, Van Drew has voted with his party 82 percent of the time, compared with 98 percent for the average House Democrat, according to CQ’s Vote Watch. He’s sided with the president on legislation slightly more than the average House Democrat, 6 percent versus 2 percent of the time.
Van Drew has not informed Pelosi of his plans, according to a Pelosi spokesman.