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Representative Jeff Van Drew, Anti-Impeachment Democrat, Considering Switching Parties

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WASHINGTON — Representative Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, a moderate Democrat who is among his party’s staunchest opponents of impeaching President Trump, is considering switching parties and could make an announcement as soon as next week, just as the House is casting its historic votes on articles of impeachment.

Mr. Van Drew has had discussions with senior Trump advisers about securing the president’s support for his switch, a blessing that could help him avert a primary challenge next year in what would be his new party, according to two Democrats and one Republican who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the talks.

The benefit of the move to Mr. Trump would be more immediate: Mr. Van Drew’s high-profile defection could help soften the blow of becoming the third president ever to be impeached, allowing Mr. Trump to argue that the idea of removing him from office is so unpopular that it is prompting Democrats to abandon their party.

The New Jersey congressman’s deliberations reflect the heavy political consequences hanging over next week’s impeachment vote, particularly for moderate Democrats in districts that supported Mr. Trump in 2016. While there is little doubt that Democrats will have the votes to approve the charges against the president in a near party-line vote, a small number of their conservative-leaning members are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of taking part in a partisan impeachment vote and are spending the weekend torn over how to proceed.

Mr. Van Drew did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Conversations between Mr. Van Drew and top advisers to Mr. Trump intensified late last week, according to a Republican familiar with the discussions, with the New Jersey freshman making clear he was nervous about losing his seat, either in a Democratic primary or the general election.

Mr. Van Drew had initially been cool to the idea of changing parties, but after he saw the results of a poll conducted earlier this month that showed that a vote against impeaching Mr. Trump would damage his chances of winning his Democratic primary, he began considering the move in earnest, two people familiar with the situation said, insisting on anonymity. The poll, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, showed that an overwhelming majority of Democratic primary voters — 71 percent — would be less likely to support his re-election if he opposed the charges against Mr. Trump.

Mr. Van Drew is serious enough about the possible switch that he has discussed which day to make an announcement and whether to time it immediately before or after the House votes on two articles of impeachment, which are expected on Wednesday, according to Republicans and Democrats.

A freshman lawmaker from a historically Republican-leaning southern New Jersey district, Mr. Van Drew has already made clear he won’t support impeachment, which has triggered talk of a liberal primary challenger.

“I don’t see anything there worthy of actually taking a president out of office,” he said earlier in the week.

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Mr. Van Drew was one of only two House Democrats who opposed the impeachment process when the party’s leaders brought the matter to a vote in October to lay out ground rules for the inquiry. That stance has made him the target of sharp criticism from progressive activists and protests outside his district office. Perhaps more notable, his state’s machine-aligned Democratic leaders have also gone public with their own discomfort over his stance.

“I am imploring you to vote in favor of impeachment,” Michael Suleiman, the Atlantic County Democratic chairman, wrote in a letter to Mr. Van Drew, warning about repercussions for other Democrats. “A ‘no’ vote on impeachment will suppress Democratic turnout down-ballot, which my organization cannot sustain.”

A former state senator, Mr. Van Drew represents a congressional district the president won by about five points in 2016. Mr. Van Drew won the seat more easily thanks to a Republican opponent who made racist comments and lost his backing from the national party.

But congressional Republicans were already targeting Mr. Van Drew, considering him a top target in their effort to take back the House.

He has long had a difficult relationship with many Democrats in his home state, based in part on his support for gun rights. During his years in the state legislature, he was an important Democratic vote for the southern block of the state so he was largely spared from intraparty threats.

Still, once he was elected to Congress, Mr. Van Drew began to stray more visibly from the state delegation. He skipped a delegation meeting in Washington with Gov. Philip D. Murphy, the lone lawmaker from New Jersey’s 13 Democratic representatives and senators to do so.

And since he has been publicly indicating he will not vote for impeachment, party leaders in New Jersey have intensified their opposition. Mr. Van Drew had reportedly sought a letter of support from Democratic county chairs to help prop him up after his impeachment vote, but was denied.

Instead, Mr. Suleiman, the powerful Atlantic County chair, sent the stern letter to Mr. Van Drew.

“Atlantic County Democrats have a tough time as it is facing 100 years of ‘Boardwalk Empire;’ we cannot afford to have Democrats sit on their hands in a presidential year when we usually perform well,” he wrote in a letter first obtained by The New Jersey Globe

The drop-off in support from party leaders also comes after Mr. Van Drew failed to deliver legislative victories in his district last month. A slate that was publicly called “Team Van Drew” lost all three of its legislative seats, one of the few red-to-blue flips in the New Jersey off-year elections.

Mr. Van Drew would hardly be the first political moderate to change parties ahead of what could be a difficult election. In December of 2009, then-Representative Parker Griffith of Alabama, a freshman who was elected as a Democrat, became a Republican. But Mr. Griffith, with no Republican president in office to vouch for him, lost his primary the following year.

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