Already facing significant opposition back home from within his own party for refusing to support the impeachment of President Donald Trump, freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) is reportedly ready to switch to the Republican Party with the backing of the President, a politically embarrassing development for Democrats in advance of this week's House impeachment vote.
"Wow, that would be big," President Trump tweeted over the weekend about news reports on Van Drew's future. "Always heard Jeff is very smart!"
As of Sunday evening, Van Drew had not publicly confirmed his plans, as the reported move enraged Democrats on Capitol Hill and back in the Garden State.
"Betraying our party by siding with Donald Trump is the final straw," said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who made clear his disappointment in Van Drew in a series of weekend tweets, calling the switch 'cynical and desperate.'
Thank you for your honesty Jeff. All of the Democrats know you are right, but unlike you, they don’t have the “guts” to say so! https://t.co/OUc46HUwPq— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 15, 2019
Five of Jeff Van Drew’s staff members announced their resignation Sunday after the congressman privately indicated he would switch parties, saying they are “deeply saddened and disappointed” by the decision pic.twitter.com/TnlbUakEp1— Manu Raju (@mkraju) December 16, 2019
The five staffers who resigned from Van Drew's office on Sunday included two Deputy Chiefs of Staff, his Communications Director, Legislative Director, and Legislative Assistant.
A sixth staffer also reportedly submitted a resignation letter on Sunday.
An experienced former state lawmaker in New Jersey who won a GOP House seat in 2018, Van Drew set himself apart from fellow Democrats repeatedly over the past year, opposing Nancy Pelosi's election as Speaker, voting against starting an impeachment inquiry, and opposing a resolution to hold the Attorney General and Secretary of Commerce in Contempt of Congress.
"I'm always true to my word," Van Drew told reporters in mid November of 2018, as he explained why he would vote against Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.
Less than a year later, Van Drew - who served sixteen years in the New Jersey state House and Senate as a Democrat - is evidently ready to switch to the GOP.
Democrats said the real story was that Van Drew - because of his opposition to an impeachment investigation - was in danger of being defeated in the 2020 Democratic primary, as they quickly leaked recent polling showing exactly that outcome.
Dem source sends this excerpt from poll commissioned by Van Drew campaign taken Dec 7-10 of Dem likely voters in his district. “Shows any D would beat him,” source says. “This is what this is about.” pic.twitter.com/gmSQht4Z2A— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) December 14, 2019
The possibility of a party switch left questions for Republicans as well.
In a story in the Press of Atlantic City newspaper on Sunday, one GOP candidate who had already announced a bid to run against Van Drew called the lawmaker, an 'absolute weasel,' as even former Vice President Joe Biden piled on.
"The leading Democrat opposed to impeachment is switching parties to protect Trump," Biden tweeted, using the Van Drew story as part of a fundraising effort.
The current Congress has already seen one party switch, in part because of the impeachment inquiry, as Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan switched from the GOP to Independent.
President Trump is holding a campaign rally in Amash's district on Wednesday evening, likely just after the House votes on two impeachment charges.