WASHINGTON, DC – Only two Democrats broke ranks Thursday to oppose the House resolution that sets ground rules for an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.
Freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and 15-term veteran Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota complained that the process so far has been overly partisan and is further dividing the country.
The Democratic-controlled House approved the package on a 232-196 vote, with all Republicans against.
Peterson, who represents rural, western Minnesota and is one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, said he has "serious concerns" with how impeachment has proceeded, with a series of closed-door depositions conducted by the House Intelligence Committee and two other committees.
While the resolution includes public hearings and release of transcripts from earlier interviews, Peterson said he was "skeptical that we will have a process that is open, transparent and fair."
Without support from Senate Republicans, "going down this path is a mistake," he said.
Van Drew, a dentist and a longtime state legislator, won his southern New Jersey seat last year after it was under Republican control for nearly two decades.
"Without bipartisan support I believe this inquiry will further divide the country, tearing it apart at the seams and will ultimately fail in the Senate," he said in a statement.
Democrats said the procedures, which give them the ability to curb the president's lawyers from calling witnesses, are similar to rules used during the impeachment proceedings of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Republicans complained they were skewed against Trump.
Pressed by reporters after the vote, Van Drew said he did not think that he and Peterson had muddled Democrats' message on impeachment. Republicans cited the pair's votes as evidence of bipartisan opposition to impeachment.
"I think two (no votes) actually lets me reflect my views," he said. Both lawmakers are among more than 60 Democrats nationwide who have already been targeted by Republicans with ads critical of impeachment.
The impeachment inquiry is looking into Trump's July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Trump asked for a "favor" — investigating Joe Biden, a Democratic rival for president.
Democrats say the request and other actions by the administration to push Ukraine to investigate the former vice president and his family amounted to a quid pro quo for important military aid for Ukraine, providing sufficient grounds for impeachment.
Van Drew challenged that narrative, saying that "at the end of the day, there was no investigation (by Ukraine) and the money did flow" after a multiple-month delay.
Van Drew's position is at odds with many Democratic voters, especially in New Jersey, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 1 million registered voters. But it reflects his sprawling district, which covers all or part of eight counties in southern New Jersey and includes Atlantic City and some Philadelphia suburbs.
Van Drew's 2nd District supported Trump by 4 percentage points in 2016, a far closer margin than the 30-point shellacking that Democrat Hillary Clinton received in Peterson's 7th District in Minnesota.
Despite their no votes on impeachment rules, both lawmakers insisted they have not made up their minds on whether to impeach Trump.
"Now that the vote has taken place and we are moving forward I will be making a judgment call based on all the evidence presented by these investigations," Van Drew said.
"I will not make a decision on impeachment until all the facts have been presented," Peterson said.
Four lawmakers did not vote Thursday: Republican Reps. Jody Hice of Georgia, John Rose of Tennessee and William Timmons of South Carolina, and Democrat Donald McEachin of Virginia. Independent Justin Amash of Michigan, a former Republican, voted in favor of the impeachment rules.