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Van Drew Explains Party Switch to OC Chamber

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd) tells Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce members about his decision to change parties and his views on the impeachment of President Donald Trump Jan. 23.

By Bill Barlow

OCEAN CITY – Instead of an update on federal issues or rundown of recent votes, U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd) spoke to Ocean City business leaders Jan. 23 about what everyone seemed to be talking about: His decision to change parties and his views on the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
Van Drew said his switch, from Democrat to Republican, made international headlines, adding that it was the first time in American history that a member of Congress changed from the majority party to the one in the minority.
He maintained that the issue of impeachment was the final piece of his decision to leave the Democratic Party. He described himself as a fervent believer in American exceptionalism, alleging that belief is no longer welcome in the Democratic Party.
He also stated that a Democratic leader in one of the counties in his district sought to dictate his vote on impeachment, threatening Van Drew’s place on the ballot in the upcoming primary.
With a warm welcome from the business group, Van Drew stated that he did not want his comments to be seen as a condemnation of all in his former party.
“There are good Republicans and bad Republicans, and good Democrats and bad Democrats. We’re all in this together. We have the same blood flowing through our veins,” he said. “This is simply what I believe. It is simply what I believe where our country is at this point. It’s simply what I believe that is so important. It is simply why I made the decision that I did.”
The crowd included several Ocean City Council members and business owners, as well as a few Democrats, including Amy Kennedy, one of the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for Van Drew’s seat in 2020.
The annual address by the 2nd District congressman to the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce luncheon has been a tradition for more than 20 years. Former U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo addressed the group each year, and Chamber President Michelle Gillian said U.S. Rep. Bill Hughes also kept the tradition.
Much of the typical business of a chamber lunch meeting was set aside. There were no reports from committees, and the business group skipped introductions around the room, which starts most meetings. Instead, a new member introduced himself.
Speaking for about a half hour after lunch, Van Drew laid out his decision to change parties and support Trump. He described the process by which the president agreed to hold a rally in Van Drew’s congressional district during an election year, in a state that has not gone to a Republican presidential candidate since George Bush in 1988.
In his comments, Van Drew described himself as a conservative Democrat, even when he first ran for mayor in Dennis Township. He believes the Democratic Party has moved to the left and is intolerant of dissenting views.
As a freshman congressman, Van Drew angered district Democrats and garnered interviews on Fox News when he voted no for Nancy Pelosi, of California, as Speaker of the House, and again when he opposed impeachment, arguing that it is bad for the nation.
“It diminishes our country. It hurts our country. It hurts the view of our country abroad, and there has to be strong, strong reasons for it,” Van Drew said. He said the step should be reserved for accusations of high crimes or treason, although the Constitution lists “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
“If you don’t see that, you should not impeach the president,” he said. “There are millions of people who voted for the president, and those millions of people, their vote is disenfranchised.”
As one of the few Democrats opposing impeachment, Van Drew gained a high profile in national media.
“I became the spokesperson for why this wasn’t right. You probably saw me on CNN, or a lot on Fox, and I wasn’t afraid to say what I felt,” he said.
The president saw some of those comments, and statements made on the floor of the House, Van Drew said.
“As you know, he watches some TV,” he said.
The White House contacted him and said Trump wanted to meet.
“He really believed that the country needed me to become a Republican, that he needed me to become a Republican, that he wanted to work with me,” Van Drew said. “He’s a forceful guy, but he was very gentle, very nice, very calm. Not like you picture him, really.
“I said I would think about it, and as I was sitting there, I said I have thought about it. I want to do it. It came to me that quick,” he continued. “This stuff had been bothering me for so long, this lurch to the left, this denying the greatness of America. It was really starting to bother me.”
Van Drew said he suggested the rally in South Jersey, saying Trump readily agreed and wanted to hold it as quickly as possible.
Set to start at 7 p.m. Jan. 28, the rally at the Wildwoods Convention Center was expected to draw thousands, likely far more than the center can accommodate. Van Drew said there would be screens set up on the beach for the overflow crowd to watch the rally.
Protesters also planned to attend the event, with several organizations intending to express their opposition in Wildwood, as well.
He told the Ocean City group that Democratic leadership had said it would not impeach, but changed its mind. Van Drew said some Democrats ran for Congress on promises of impeachment.
Pelosi opposed impeachment at the start of 2019. That changed after a whistleblower raised concerns about the president’s handling of an April call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Critics of the president believe he pressured Zelensky to launch an investigation that could discredit former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential Democratic candidate for his job.
Trump decried the House investigation into the matter as a partisan witch hunt. The investigation saw little cooperation from the White House.
The House voted to impeach a sitting president Dec. 18 for the third time in American history, accusing Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Days later, sitting next to Trump in the Oval Office, Van Drew pledged his undying support for the president and announced his decision to change parties.
As Trump appears in Wildwood, the Senate would likely still be weighing the impeachment charges. Few see any chance of conviction in the Republican-controlled body.
Van Drew argued that impeachment could accomplish nothing, wasting time and further dividing the nation.
“I thought it would hurt the country and split us apart even more. I believed it would make people even angrier at each other and not bring us together, which is what we’re supposed to do in leadership,” Van Drew said.
Asked after the meeting if he had any concerns with the president’s behavior, he said it was “not perfect,” disputing Trump’s oft-quoted description of the phone call central to the issue, but said he saw nothing worthy of impeachment.
In his comments, Van Drew cited Ronald Reagan, saying he kept a portrait of the Republican icon in his office through his years as an elected Democrat.
“Maybe I’m corny. Maybe I’m old fashioned. I believe America is that shining city on the hill,” he said. “Americans are good people by and large who are trying to do their best, not only in their country, but around the world.”
To contact Bill Barlow, email bbarlow@cmcherald.com.

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