Lawmaker refuses to say if he’s becoming Republican 1 day before vote

Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey Democrat, refused to say whether he is switching his affiliation to Republican one day before the US House of Representatives is set to vote on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, dismissing concerns that he could face blowback from voters in a 2020 reelection if he joins the GOP.

Van Drew has been an outspoken critic of the House’s impeachment of the President for weeks, but, in the days leading up to the House’s vote on articles of impeachment, he began to tell people he was thinking about leaving the Democratic party altogether, according to sources.

Van Drew would not admit publicly to reporters that he plans to switch parties when asked on Tuesday, and he dismissed concerns about an exodus of his staff members amid reports about his plans to become a Republican.

“We change jobs — all of us,” Van Drew said. “You have the same job your whole life?”

If he were to switch, he said he would define himself as a Republican based on their party’s belief in “American exceptionalism.”

“I believe in American exceptionalism, that this is the best nation in the world,” Van Drew said. “I’ve been told often, and actually there have been quotes, that many (Democrats) do not. Many do not believe in the idea that America is any better than any other country in the world.”

Before speaking with reporters in the hallways off of the House floor, Van Drew was seen talking with House Republicans on the floor while members were voting on two spending packages to fund the government for the next year.

Van Drew met with Trump on Friday, but said he had gotten “no pressure whatsoever” from the President to change parties. He would not say what he and the President discussed. He also said that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer had left him a message, but he said he had already expressed his concerns to the leader, and “it’s hard to talk to everybody all the time.”

The Blue Dog coalition, a group of moderate Democrats within the House Democratic caucus, voted to rescind Van Drew’s membership to the group about an hour after his comments to reporters.

“Per our bylaws, which require all members to be a member of the Democratic Party, Congressman Van Drew is no longer a member of the Blue Dog Coalition,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy, co-chairwoman of administration for the Blue Dogs, said in a statement.

With rumors swirling that Van Drew was planning to leave the Democratic party, six of his staff members resigned over the weekend. Van Drew implied his staff had little choice but to resign if he switched parties.

“They were told to,” he said. “They had to or else they wouldn’t work again,” implying that if they worked for a Republican it would be hard to later work for a different Democratic member of Congress.

Van Drew would not say who told his staff to resign, but said, “it would be very hard for them to work if there was a switch and they stayed. I think it would be very hard for them. That was up to them.”

The lawmaker did not seem to believe he would be betraying the people in his southern New Jersey district who voted for him as a Democratic candidate if he switched parties, noting that many people in his district are already Republicans.

“My constituency, the majority of them are Republicans, but the biggest majority of them are people who really vote for people because of their individuality,” he said. “So, I have an election coming up, and if they disagree with what I’ve done, they’ll vote me out.”

Van Drew confirmed that he plans to run for reelection in 2020.

CNN’s Haley Byrd contributed to this report.

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