ROCHESTER, Mich. — After announcing in an op-ed in her local paper that she will vote to impeach President Donald Trump, Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin was met with a mix of cheers and boos at a town hall meeting at Oakland University on Monday morning.
She started talking about “the basic facts” — that Trump asked the president of a foreign country to investigate a political rival — and chants broke out: “Hey ho, hey ho, Elissa Slotkin’s got to go.”
One of the freshmen who helped Democrats win a historic House victory in 2018, Slotkin flipped a longtime GOP district that Trump carried by 7 points in 2016. Her decision to vote for impeachment raises questions about whether she and Democrats like her in Trump districts will face political backlash in 2020.
“This was an issue of principle,” Slotkin told the crowd. “This was an issue in my bones.”
Reaching a decision
Slotkin was one of seven so-called national security freshmen whose September Washington Post op-ed column calling for an impeachment inquiry opened the floodgates of Democratic support. Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for a probe shortly thereafter.
Asked directly about overturning the will of voters in her district, Slotkin said her motivation was not what happened in 2016, and that the report of former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, which came out last spring, had not been enough to convince her.
“I was not supportive of impeachment for many, many months,” Slotkin said. “I thought the election in 2020 should take care of it. But then, the facts came out that the president was reaching out in order to influence the very election that I was counting on to have a Democratic process. And that, to me, was different.”
She said she worried about the future.
“I want you to think about where we will be if it becomes normal to ask foreign governments to intervene,” Slotkin said. “This is something that I cannot abide.”
Slotkin said she will be voting for both articles of impeachment, which accuse Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The vote could come Wednesday.
“When I decided to run for Congress, I felt very firmly that Congress has some very basic jobs, and these are outlined in the Constitution,” Slotkin said.
“You don’t know the Constitution,” shouted a Trump supporter in the back of the room — part of a relatively small but vocal contingent of protesters who drowned out the congresswoman at multiple points throughout Monday’s hourlong event.
But faced with chants of “four more years” from Trump supporters, Slotkin rarely paused.
“I’m just going to continue because I’ve got the mic,” Slotkin said.
It was her fifth town hall since September, and Slotkin said the events were important because she had criticized her predecessor, GOP Rep. Mike Bishop, for not holding them.
While in Washington last week, Slotkin attended a Problem Solvers Caucus holiday party at the National Archives, where she saw the Constitution up close, without many other people around. She said she then returned to her family farm in Holly, Michigan, and examined all the evidence she had.
Slotkin said she reached her decision Sunday and spent the day penning an opinion column for the Detroit Free Press, which she submitted after midnight.
Despite her attempts at transparency, though, Slotkin acknowledged she would not be able to reach people in her district who are dealing with a different set of facts.
Slotkin served three tours in Iraq with the CIA and comes from a military family. Some Trump supporters in her district, including those who showed up wearing matching red T-shirts as part of an organized protest Monday, said the president did not do anything wrong and the intelligence community has conspired against him.
“That’s just going to be a place where we’re not going to bridge the gap because I do not believe there is a coup going on,” Slotkin said.
Slotkin’s office has received thousands of phone calls and emails from constituents about impeachment, more than half of them against it.
“She’s just signed her death warrant,” Trump supporter Bill Rouwerdik, 68, who’d come to protest the event, said before the town hall.
Slotkin has maintained that her decision is “bigger than politics.”
“It may be that voters decide in 2020 that they don’t want me to be their representative,” she told reporters after the event. She added she was hoping they would see that her impeachment decision was based on “personal integrity.”
Like New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who flipped a Republican seat last year but told staff over the weekend that he’s switching parties to the GOP, Slotkin represents a district that Trump carried. Former President Barack Obama carried Michigan’s 8th District by nearly 6 points in 2008, but Mitt Romney won it by 3 in 2012.
A federal court ruled the district was part of an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander favoring Republicans earlier this year. It stretches across three counties, and Slotkin won the county farthest to the east, which includes the solidly Democratic city of Lansing. She lost the other two counties — but by less than the Democrats who ran before her — and won overall by 4 points. Inside Elections rates her race Leans Democratic.
“I believe strongly we need to show support for the moderate Democrats that are putting country before party,” said Tom Moran, a school bus driver who showed up to Monday’s town hall with a giant hand-painted canvas banner that said the congresswoman “commands our respect.”
Republicans, especially those who want to knock out Slotkin next year, think this could be the vote that undoes her.
“It’s going to be a big deal,” said Paul Junge, who came to Monday’s town hall and is one of the Republicans vying to take on Slotkin next year. “I mean, eight, nine months, who knows what can happen between now and then. … But I’m hearing from voters routinely that they are just disgusted by this entire effort.”
Rochester is part of the relatively affluent, suburban community that has long skewed Republican but is slowly changing. Slotkin won the town, which includes a Whole Foods and a barre studio, by 53 votes last year.
It’s the kind of place where Democrats are trying to make inroads by addressing issues such as health care.
Before getting to impeachment, Slotkin ran through a list of recent accomplishments in Congress, including her vote for a bill to address prescription drug prices that the House passed last week. She received applause when she focused on what it could mean for diabetes patients, as well as Medicare recipients who would get coverage they do not have now for vision and dental care.
“Health care is the reason I got in this race,” Sloktin told the crowd.
Turning to the trade deal known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada-Agreement, Slotkin directly addressed the Trump protesters booing her in the back: “This is something he suggested, folks.”
“I have to give a lot of credit to both the president and the president’s negotiator,” Slotkin said, trying to demonstrate to her constituents that she can work with — and respect — the president that a majority of them voted for.