Trump praises N.J. Congressman Jeff Van Drew, who’s ready to switch political parties

Updated Dec 15, 2019

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Sunday morning to sing the praises of U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, the New Jersey Democrat who’s about to switch sides.

“Wow, that would be big,” Trump tweeted in response to reports that Van Drew would become a Republican. “Always heard Jeff is very smart!”

Trump, a Republican, met with Van Drew at the White House on Friday after the New Jersey lawmaker said he would vote against impeaching the president over allegations that he withheld aid to Ukraine to force that country into announcing investigations to benefit him politically.

Van Drew said that Trump’s actions didn’t deserve his removal from office.

“Thank you for your honesty Jeff,” Trump also tweeted Sunday. “All of the Democrats know you are right, but unlike you, they don’t have the ‘guts’ to say so!”

Spurned Democrats vowed to oust Van Drew from office in the next election and condemned the party switch.

“Jeff Van Drew’s decision to switch parties is a betrayal to every voter who supported him in 2018 — Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated," state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said in a statement Sunday.

Sweeney, a longtime ally who also hails from South Jersey, said Van Drew’s party switch came after every county Democratic chair in the 2nd Congressional District declined to endorse him for re-election because of his position on impeachment.

“He tried to get chairmen to sign letters to support him,” Sweeney told NJ Advance Media on Sunday. “Jeff said, ‘Don’t define me by one vote.' He defined himself by this vote.”

Sweeney said talked to Van Drew, a former member of the state Senate, before the party switch.

“He called me a few times,” Sweeney said. “I said: ‘Jeff, these guys are not gonna support you. This is over the line. This is not acceptable.’”

“I’m extremely disappointed," the Senate president added. “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, to be perfectly honest with you.”

Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat sometimes at odds with Sweeney, was on his side this time, calling Van Drew’s move “cynical and desperate.”

“Betraying our values by siding with Donald Trump is the final straw and made it impossible for him to continue being supported by our party, as grassroots activists, local party leaders in his district, and I have made this clear in recent weeks,” Murphy said in a statement.

And one of Van Drew’s colleagues in Washington, Rep. Donald Norcross, D-1st Dist., called on him to apologize to everyone who supported him in 2018, including the county party leaders who gave him their line in the Democratic primary. The Democratic Congressional Congressional Committee even waded into the primary to back Van Drew over other, more progressive, candidates.

“Whatever party he claims to represent, Van Drew is just plain wrong to support Trump’s corrupt actions," Norcross said in a statement Sunday. "I look forward to supporting the Democratic candidate next year who will truly represent South Jersey’s values.”

Van Drew, D-2nd Dist., was one of only two House Democrats to vote against beginning the House investigation into whether Trump should be only the third U.S. president to be impeached.

Trump also had kind words for Van Drew at that time, especially after the congressman want on the Fox News Channel and spoke out against moving toward impeachment.

Van Drew, though has voted with Trump just 7.1% of the time, tied for seventh highest among Democrats, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the other Democrat to vote against beginning the impeachment inquiry, backed Trump 19.6% of the time, more than any other member of his party.

Van Drew and Rep. Andy Kim, D-3rd Dist., two of the four New Jersey Democrats who flipped Republican-held seats in 2018, are considered the most endangered incumbents in the state next year by the two Washington-based publications that track congressional races, the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections.

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