Craig Cote of Otisfield shows his support Tuesday for impeaching President Trump, on the Longley Bridge in Auburn. “Resist Central Maine” was one of 16 groups in Maine to hold rallies Tuesday that were “meant to inform the people about what’s going on,” according to organizer Pat Fogg of Greene. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

WASHINGTON — The freshman congressman from Maine is one of 31 Democrats who represent districts carried by President Donald Trump in 2016. But he’s the only member of Congress who has said he will split his vote on impeachment.

Golden announced Tuesday night that he will vote for Article I, which accuses Trump of abusing his power, but he will oppose Article II, which says that Trump obstructed Congress by not complying with subpoenas and blocking key witnesses from testifying. In legislative parlance, this is what’s called “splitting the baby.”

Standing in the middle of the road is dangerous, Margaret Thatcher once explained, because you can get hit by cars going both directions. That’s what Golden is experiencing today.

Liberals are angry. “If my congressman, Jared Golden, votes for only one article of impeachment, I will work with all my might to see him defeated next year,” tweeted Stephen King, the best-selling mystery novelist.

And Republicans, who are expected to vote as a unified bloc today, certainly aren’t placated. “Golden’s vote to impeach President Trump proves he’d rather stand with the socialist Democrats than Maine voters,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Michael McAdams.

Golden’s vote will not impact the outcome. For only the third time in U.S. history, the House of Representatives is poised to impeach a president this evening. Enough Democrats have publicly declared that they will vote for both articles that there’s no suspense about what will happen at the end of a long day of debate and procedural squabbles on the floor.

But the fact that Golden stands alone says a great deal about not just impeachment but the political era we find ourselves in. Intensifying polarization and tribalism are forcing members to pick a side – and fully own their decision one way or another – in ways that used to be much easier to avoid.

When the House voted 21 years ago to impeach Bill Clinton, two of the four draft articles of impeachment failed because so many members split their votes. Eighty-one Republicans opposed one of the articles, and 28 opposed the other, handily sinking both. Meanwhile, five Democrats voted in favor of three of the articles but not the fourth. Five Republicans voted against the perjury charge that passed. Eight more Republicans opposed the obstruction charge.

In 1974, seven Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance an article of impeachment against Richard Nixon for abusing his power and six supported an article related to obstruction of justice but only two Republicans voted to charge Nixon with contempt of Congress.

William Cohen, as a young GOP congressman from Maine who sat on the Judiciary Committee, voted for Nixon’s impeachment that summer. The president would resign before the full House could vote on the three articles that were adopted by the committee. Cohen, who would later serve in the Senate and as secretary of defense, has described Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine as impeachable.

For his part, Trump has accelerated a once-in-a-generation realignment between the two parties. Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey plans to quit the Democratic Party this week in the face of blowback from the left because of his opposition to impeachment. He was one of only two Democrats to vote against formally opening the impeachment inquiry in October. The other, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, has said he’s likely to vote against both articles of impeachment but hasn’t officially declared his position.

The pressure on Golden to vote against impeachment has been intense. American Action Network, an outside group backed by House GOP leadership, has spent $325,000 on anti-impeachment attack ads against Golden. On Saturday, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted his office phone number and Twitter handle, along with the contact information for other Democrats in swing districts. “Now its time to hear from OUR MOVEMENT,” the president’s son tweeted. “Call non-stop, tweet at them, tell them this will NOT STAND & you’ll remember in Nov!”

Golden said last night that the decision “has not been easy for me.” He told local reporters on a conference call that he didn’t decide until the final 24 hours. “This weekend, I was still really weighing this,” he said, according to the Lewiston Sun Journal.

Golden laid out his reasoning for voting yes and no in a 2,546-word Facebook post last night. Trump won his rural district by 10 points in 2016, even as he lost statewide by three points. The 37-year-old Marine Corps veteran narrowly defeated a GOP incumbent last November in the first federal race ever decided by ranked-choice voting.

He opens his post by noting that he promised to work with Trump “whenever possible” and stand up to him “whenever necessary.” The statement includes hedges like “on the one hand” and “on the other hand.” He notes that he opposed calls for impeachment after reading former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. He says he agrees with his constituents who have told him the country’s direction should be decided at the ballot box. Golden adds that he pored over a late law professor’s “handbook” on impeachment. Naturally, he also quotes Alexander Hamilton.

“The House investigation clearly unearthed a pattern of evidence that demonstrates the corrupt intent on the part of the president, his personal lawyer, and members of his administration to leverage the powers of the presidency to damage a political opponent and strengthen the president’s reelection prospects,” Golden writes. “This action crossed a clear red line, and in my view, there is no doubt that this is an impeachable act.”

Golden goes on to explain why he cannot vote for the obstruction charge. “While I do not dispute that the White House has been provocative in its defiance and sweeping in its claims of executive privilege, I also believe there are legitimate and unresolved constitutional questions about the limits of executive privilege, and that before pursuing impeachment for this charge, the House has an obligation to exhaust all other available options,” he writes. “I believe that the House must exercise as much restraint as possible in order to avoid setting a dangerous precedent for the future.”

Partisans brush aside such nuance. A former state senator who is vying for the Republican nomination to face Golden next year accused him of “trying to have his cake and eat it too.”

Trump boosters nationally have begun singling out Golden for a special kind of ridicule. “This would be like ordering a lobster dinner, eating all of it, and then telling the server that you didn’t like the way he placed the plate on the table, so you won’t be paying for it,” wrote Washington Examiner columnist Eddie Scarry.

Ironically, Golden’s first job in politics was as a staffer for Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. During next month’s trial in the Senate, she will face similar cross-currents and pressures but from the other side. Golden deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq as a Marine Corps infantryman between 2002 to 2006. Then he studied history at Bates College and came to Washington to work as a staffer for Collins on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. He moved home and got elected to the state House in 2014 as a Democrat, where he ascended into party leadership.

Collins officially announced this morning that she will seek a fifth term next November. Of the 33 members of Congress from New England, Collins is the only Republican in either chamber.

Notably, Collins was one of only four Senate Republicans who voted to acquit Clinton in 1999, reasoning back then that his misconduct didn’t rise to the threshold the founders intended for removing a president from office. But she also insisted as a juror during the Clinton trial that the Senate hear from a bevy of witnesses, something that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – who also called for witnesses 21 years ago – does not want to do this time around.

She was easily reelected in 2002.

Collins has also voted for every Supreme Court nominee from presidents of both parties during her tenure in the Senate. But her support for Brett Kavanaugh last year in the face of Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations, which he denied, has made her race competitive and drawn a massive influx of money from the left and the right. It’s another reflection of how the political climate has changed.

Public and private polling showed that Collins’ support took a big hit after her Kavanaugh vote, largely driven by center-left independents, especially women, who voted for Collins in the past but found her support for Kavanaugh inexcusable. It matters little to them that Collins also cast a decisive vote to save the Affordable Care Act in 2017.

Similarly, Golden voted against a Democratic bill earlier this year to strengthen background checks for gun purchases to show his independence to the many firearms enthusiasts in his district. But he can almost certainly still count on the opposition of groups like the National Rifle Association. In the past, Mainers have rewarded mavericks who showed independent streaks. In 2020, both Collins and Golden will test whether that’s still the case.


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