WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some U.S. Democrats from highly competitive districts say they are undecided on how to vote on the impeachment of President Donald Trump in the House of Representatives, a vote that will be historic as well as pivotal for their own political futures.
In conversations in recent days with over a dozen lawmakers from swing districts, only two said they had decided to vote yes - Representative Susan Wild of Pennsylvania and Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota. Both lawmakers replaced Republicans.
“The question before us is there enough evidence to warrant a trial in the Senate? And the answer in my estimation ... is yes,” Phillips said. He said he expected to vote “Yes, with a heavy heart.”
The two articles of impeachment accuse Trump of abusing his power by trying to force Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to face the president in next year’s election, and of obstructing Congress when lawmakers tried to look into the matter.
Trump denies wrongdoing and calls the impeachment inquiry a hoax.
Aides to House Democratic leaders say they expect the articles of impeachment to pass comfortably in the Democratic-controlled House, sending the matter to the Senate for a trial on whether to remove Trump from office. But defections would undermine the sense of party unity, potentially a sign of weakness ahead of 2020 elections.
Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey who is serving his second term in a district narrowly won by Trump in the 2016 presidential election, said he did not expect to make a decision until after the House Judiciary Committee approves the articles on Thursday.
He was among about 10 battleground district lawmakers who huddled earlier this week to discuss the possibility of censuring the president, instead of impeaching him. But that option was ruled out months ago by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Democrats in swing districts may see political advantage in signaling the care they are taking to deliberate and limiting time ahead of the vote to be targeted for a position that will be unpopular with some constituents.
The Republican-led Senate is unlikely to vote to remove Trump from office.
“Phones are ringing off the hook” from impeachment supporters and opponents, said Representative Elissa Slotkin, whose Michigan district was a Republican stronghold until she won there last year. Several Republicans have already said they want to challenge Slotkin in 2020.
“I’m going to take the weekend” to look over the articles of impeachment, Slotkin said on Wednesday outside the House. “I just need to like, get a breath. Take a breath. It’s a serious decision for me.”
In the face of solid Republican opposition, Democrats will need 216 votes to approve the articles, meaning they can lose about 17 or 18 Democrats if everyone is present and voting. One independent, Representative Justin Amash, has told CNN he will vote for impeachment.
There are dozens of “battleground” districts in the House, and 31 Democrats represent districts where Trump also won in 2016. Some moderate Democrats who represent those districts were among the last in their party to endorse an impeachment inquiry and have been bombarded recently by Republican attack ads.
“We are giving this the level of seriousness that it is deserving. It’s the second most serious thing I could ever do in this institution,” after declaring war, said Representative Max Rose, who represents part of New York City, including the middle-class borough of Staten Island.
Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Peter Henderson and Peter Cooney