WASHINGTON – At least five aides to New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, the lone Democrat to come out against the impeachment of President Donald Trump, are resigning after multiple sources said the moderate is switching parties to join the GOP.
In aletter shared with USA TODAY, five staffers told Van Drew’s chief of staff, Allison Murphy, on Sunday that “Van Drew’s decision to join the ranks of the Republican Party led by Donald Trump does not align with the values we brought to this job when we joined his office.”
“Over the past year, Trump Republicans have sided with special interests over the needs of working people,” they said. “Worse, they continue to aid and abet Trump as he shreds the Constitution and tears the country apart. They have refused to grapple with how the President of the United States has jeopardized our national security for his own political advantage.”
Deputy staff chiefs Edward Kaczmarski and Justin O’Leary, legislative director Javier Gamboa, spokeswoman MacKenzie Lucas and legislative assistant Caroline Wood said they were “deeply saddened and disappointed” by Van Drew’s switch and could “no longer in good conscience continue our service on the Congressman’s employ.”
CNN reported that a sixth staffer resigned Sunday.
Four of Van Drew’s staff members came by their office on Capitol Hill Monday morning to drop off their badges and pick up their personal belongings.
They declined to answer questions as they briefly entered and exited Van Drew’s office.
Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said she planned to give the resigning staffers jobs.
“It’s right before the holidays and these staffers just quit their jobs to stand up for their Democratic values,” Bustos said in a tweet. “We’ll bring them and others who leave on with the @dccc until they land new jobs that align with their values.”
Van Drew’s official and campaign Twitter accounts noted, “Republican or Democrat – We are all American.”
Van Drew is a freshman who won a seat last year in a New Jersey district Trump won by 5 percentage points in 2016.
Last week, the House Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The charges were the result of an investigation into allegations that Trump used military aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine into opening two investigations for his own political benefit.
Wednesday, Van Drew said he planned to vote against the articles of impeachment becoming the first Democrat to publicly oppose sending the charges to the Senate for a trial. He said he believed three or four other Democrats might join him.
Trump approached Van Drew about switching parties during a meeting Friday that was first reported by The Washington Post. Sources confirmed the meeting to USA TODAY and said Van Drew planned to announce his shift to the Republican Party next week.
Van Drew, a former dentist, was one of two Democrats to vote against launching the impeachment inquiry Oct. 31.
He told USA TODAY last month that he found Trump’s actions “unsavory” and that he disliked the president’s “rudeness,” but he opposed the impeachment inquiry because he did not think there was enough evidence to warrant the divisive effort to remove Trump from office.
Van Drew said he didn’t oppose impeachment “because I’m a tremendous defender of the president” or “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.”
Polling indicated Van Drew would have faced a tough primary if he sought reelection as a Democrat.
In an interview on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., dismissed Van Drew’s defection as a reaction “to public polling that shows he can’t get renominated.”
“But more to that point, this is not political,” Nadler said. “We should not be looking at those things. This is the defense of our democracy. Do we stay a democratic republic, or do we turn into a tyranny?”
Republicans said Van Drew’s opposition shows that the evidence against Trump is not convincing and that rather than having bipartisan support, impeachment faces bipartisan opposition.
“I think it’s very significant,” Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., said Sunday during an interview with Fox News.
“I think that the Democrats – Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler and the rest – have committed a huge act of political malpractice here,” Johnson said. “I think they put all of their Democrats who are in these swing districts that President Trump won pretty handily in a really difficult spot, and I expect there may be more defections.”
It is not clear whether more Democrats will oppose impeachment, but the two articles against Trump are likely to pass when they come before the full House for a vote this week.
Contributing: Ledyard King, USA TODAY; The Associated Press