The U.S. House's impeachment inquiry all came about in the wake of reports that Trump had pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Democrat Joe Biden’s family for him – only days after he had blocked nearly $400 million in military aid to Zelensky’s country.
Trump is accused of looking for overseas assisstance to smear a rival, possibly withholding aid in order to strongarm his Ukrainian counterpart.
The revelation has pushed even moderate Democrats to join in, including Minnesota’s Angie Craig and Dean Phillips, who had previously been against impeachment. Meanwhile, Rep. Ilhan Omar has been calling for these proceedings for months.
As of Thursday morning, every Democrat in the House had gotten on board, except for 18 holdouts. It’s a motley crew including representatives from Texas to New York to here in Minnesota. Our holdout is Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota’s 7th District.
Peterson didn’t respond to interview requests, but he told MinnPost there was little point in stirring the pot.
“If anyone thinks a partisan impeachment process would constrain President Trump, they are fooling themselves,” he said. “Without significant bipartisan support, impeachment proceedings will be a lengthy and divisive action with no resolution.”
If Peterson’s really worried that impeachment will be “divisive,” one can argue that ship sailed long ago.
Division along party lines—and within parties—has been a hallmark of Trump’s rise to power. A Gallup poll taken in 2012 found that 66 percent of Americans saw their country as “greatly divided when it comes to the most important values.” By 2016, that had risen to 77 percent. Nine months into Trump’s presidency, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found that seven out of 10 Americans thought the nation’s political divide was as bad as it had been during the Vietnam War.
And if he’s worried about Democrats not having a snowball’s chance in hell to pull this off on their own… well, the Democrats already know that. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, who was in the House until he took on the governorship in 2019, thinks his former colleagues are doing the right thing by making a stand, even if it doesn’t pan out.
“It may not be politically right for the Democrats to do this, but I think they have a responsibility of checks and balances,” he told MinnPost.
Arguably, what it really comes down to is that Peterson has very little incentive to stick his neck out. Statistical analysis blog FiveThirtyEight ranked the Democratic holdouts by how the 2016 presidential election went over in their districts. Peterson’s, which covers pretty much all of Minnesota’s western half, was the most solidly pro-Trump of the bunch with a 31-point margin.
Peterson may be a Democrat, but he’s a Blue Dog—a remnant of conservative Democrats who threw their weight into swing votes during the early years of the Obama presidency. He stays in power in a Trumpian, agricultural district mostly via name recognition and not trying anything too unpalatably progressive for his base.
And he’s very good at it. Historically, he has been against abortion and same-sex marriage. In the 2016 presidential election, he didn’t even vote. At the end of last year, he completely ignored a proposal about the United States’ involvement in Yemen because he “didn’t know a damn thing about it,” but would be “damned” if he let it stop him from passing the ag bill it was stuck to. Trump himself endorsed Peterson’s Republican opponent in 2018, and he still managed to keep his seat.
History has taught us that as long as Peterson keeps his head down and waits for things to blow over, he will still be there when they do. But the reaction on social media to his stance proves that at least some people are taking notice.
“My parents-in-law were activists in the Becker Co. DFL and fully supported you as a young congressman while they were alive,” one Twitter user wrote. “My husband and I truly believe they would be so ashamed of your withholding support for impeachment.”
“I understand you have a tough district but you also have a duty to protect our country!” another said.
“I’m amazed his still breathing let alone a democrat,” a third added.
Whether or not Peterson gets on board, he’s now in an uncomfortable place: the spotlight. As proceedings unfold—or don’t—the nation will be watching, waiting to see if this time he finally makes a move.