A bumpy ride for Democrat backing impeachment

Media captionDemocrat Elissa Slotkin greeted by boos and cheers after backing impeachment

Donald Trump is expected to become only the third US president in history to be impeached on Wednesday for his actions with Ukraine. Some Democratic politicians’ constituents are angry.

Swing state congresswoman Elissa Slotkin knew she was in for a bumpy ride ahead of her appearance in front of hundreds of Michigan constituents on Monday morning.

The Democrat, who last year was elected to represent a district that voted for Trump, had announced just hours earlier that she was coming out in favour of impeachment.

She’d gone home to her farm in Holly at the weekend and sat at her desk with coffee and papers to weigh up the evidence in front of her. It was clear, the former CIA analyst decided, that the president’s actions had crossed the threshold and that she was going to vote for the two articles of impeachment.

Now she had to stand up in front of 400 local residents to explain why.

Outside the town hall meeting at Oakland University, near Rochester, people were making their views loud and clear.

  • A really simple guide to impeachment story

There was a stand-off between those who support her decision and Trump supporters who think she’s in the wrong, and should be impeached herself.

Waiting to go into Ballroom A for the event, they stood on either side of the hallway with their placards (“Impeach Slotkin, keep Trump” one read), exchanging chants. Some tried covering up pro-Slotkin signs with their own, leading to a minor tussle by a Christmas tree.

Inside the ballroom, there was a chorus of loud boos competing with cheers the moment the congresswoman stood up. The meeting organiser asked for everyone to respect each other, but that didn’t stop the yelling.

“Hey hey, ho ho, Elissa Slotkin’s got to go!” came the chants from one corner of the ballroom, peppered with “four more years!” and “MAGA!”. One man stood with his back turned to the congresswoman for most of the hour-long event.

“I’m glad to see so much enthusiasm for civic engagement,” she began.

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There was a confrontation between a man holding a sign condemning white supremacy and a woman supporting Trump

As she set out to explain her reasoning, sometimes the shouts threatened to drown her out. “Let’s have a civil conversation,” she said at one point. “I’m going to continue – I have the microphone.”

When she came on to the subject of impeachment, she was greeted with a standing ovation.

What was different in this case, says the congresswoman, was that the president in his phone call to the Ukrainian president at the heart of the allegations against him, decided to act for his own personal gain “and not in the interests of the United States”.

“Short of declaring war, this is one of the biggest decisions I will be voting on in my short time in Congress. I take it very seriously.”

There were yells of “you’re not fooling anybody” as she continued: “Whether you agree with me or not, I have attempted in all I can to be transparent. For me, this is an issue of principle.”

She said she’s aware that her stance could lose her her seat in the 2020 elections.

“I know, and I can hear, that this is a very controversial decision.

“The thing that’s different for me is this very basic idea that the president of the United States would reach out to a foreign power and ask for an investigation for personal political gain.

“While you may not agree, I hope you believe me when I tell you I made this decision out of principle and out of a duty to protect and defend the constitution. I feel that in my bones.

“And I will stick to that regardless of what it does to me politically because this is bigger than politics.”

Want to find out more?

  • CHOOSE YOUR GUIDE: Here’s a 100, 300 and 800-word summary of the story
  • WHAT’S IMPEACHMENT? A political process to remove a president
  • VIEW FROM TRUMP COUNTRY: Hear from residents of a West Virginia town
  • CONTEXT: Why Ukraine matters to the US
  • FACT-CHECK: Did Ukraine interfere in the 2016 election to help Clinton?
  • CASE FOR AGAINST: What legal scholars say about Trump conduct

There were other issues she covered – Medicaid, gun violence, the military – but impeachment overshadowed them all in the week of the defining vote.

A number of questions were read off cards. The first few covered impeachment (“these are the questions you’re shouting, so you may just want to listen”, Ms Slotkin called out to the protesters) – why it was wrong for the president to investigate alleged corruption, and why the matter could not just be solved at the ballot box in November’s election.

“For me, honestly, this is why I was not supportive of impeachment for many months. I thought the election should take care of it. Then the facts came out.”

Those facts, she says, are that the president was seeking to influence the 2020 election. And if that is the case, what’s to stop a future president – Democrat or Republican – seeking favours from foreign allies in years to come?

She had announced her decision in a newspaper op-ed – the same manner in which she and a group of other new congresswomen and men had voiced their support for an inquiry into impeachment, back in September.

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Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (left) and Republican leader Mitch McConnell (right) will be key players in Senate trial

Writing in the Detroit Free Press on Monday, she said she had read reports, looked back over the details of the impeachments of presidents Nixon and Clinton and the US Constitution itself.

“As a former CIA officer, I believe this lies at the very heart of impeachable conduct,” she wrote.

“To my colleagues and constituents considering this vote I think it is important to ask – should we invite foreign help into our competitive political system?”

  • How does a Senate impeachment trial work?

Rachel Goodavish, 29, has come to the town hall with two-year-old daughter Charlotte – who happily watches videos and ignores the shouting.

“I thought it was important for her to see this, to get involved,” her mum says. “How things turn out is going to affect her.

“I wanted to show support for Elissa Slotkin because I knew a lot of Trump supporters were turning up. I’m really glad about her decision. I was a little nervous, so now I’m relieved.

“Like she said, if you let this go, it sets the precedent for future elections. Even if he’s acquitted, it shows she won’t put up with it.”

But others were not convinced. Nancy Tiseo said: “Her ideas are not our ideas. She doesn’t have conservative ideas. She’s voting to impeach the president we elected and love.”

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There was a media scrum to hear Ms Slotkin speak

Jo Golda, 65, who runs a cleaning business, agreed, saying President Trump had done such a good job at increasing employment, that it’s now difficult to find people to hire.

“We are big Trump supporters and she has gone against everything we voted him in for,” she said. “This man has done incredible things for our economy, and she wants to impeach him? No way. I’m very upset, very upset.

“She’s meant to go with what we want, not with ‘her heart’. There is no reason to impeach him.”

Paul Junge, who is planning to stand against Ms Slotkin next year, said he wants to make her a one-term member of Congress.

“She is not focused on what the 8th District want” he said. “They want a focus on jobs, the economy and healthcare.”

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Jo Golda, Paul Junge and Nancy Tiseo

Not all Republicans were against Ms Slotkin, however.

Roy Goldsberry said: “I support her decision – and I say that as a Republican. I’m a rare breed.

“I don’t believe the president is acting in the country’s interests. I think he’s acting in his own personal interests.”

Media captionHow US law professors teach impeachment

Nancy Strole has a badge proclaiming she’s a Republican for Slotkin and she says she’d have supported whatever decision the congresswoman made.

“I am so proud of her. I have a Republican background, but I’m putting country over party,” she said. “And she doesn’t tell different people different things. She’s straightforward.”

Bill Rauwerdik, one of those loudly protesting, said he had been doing so because Democrats weren’t used to “vocal conservatives showing up” and that it was “nothing compared to the disruption Republicans face”.

Peter Trumbore, head of the university’s political science department, said: “If you scanned the room, what you saw was about a dozen very loud Trump supporters interested in disrupting the event.

“But there were over 400 people who were – if not all supportive – then deciding to listen. It shows it’s a swing district. It did seem a supportive audience, for the most part, with a handful of people trying to drown the speaker out.”

Media captionWhat does it take to impeach a president?

Ms Slotkin, speaking to reporters, later says she had not been lobbied by Democrats – though she spoke to people on both sides – and had not felt under any pressure to make her decision.

“Of course there were protesters in the back corner,” she said after the event. “But from my vantage point, there were a room of people with different opinions. There were people sat in the middle wearing Trump hats who clearly didn’t agree with me. But they were listening. They weren’t shouting. The most I can hope for is engaged constituents.”

Judging by the town hall, and the strength of feeling displayed, she has no shortage of those.

She will just have to wait 11 months to find out whether they re-elect her and what impact her decision, made at her Michigan farm, will have on her political future.