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Why One NYC House Democrat Is a Holdout on Impeaching Trump

Democratic activists have accused Max Rose of putting his own reelection above his duties as a congressman.

New York Times

Updated:September 30, 2019, 11:30 AM IST
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Why One NYC House Democrat Is a Holdout on Impeaching Trump
Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) on Capitol Hill in Washington, on April 4, 2019. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

New York: To understand the anomaly of Rep. Max Rose, one of the few House Democrats who has not endorsed an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, one must first understand a few other anomalies.

There is the anomaly of Staten Island, the lone stronghold of conservatism within deep blue New York City, and the heart of Rose’s district.

There is the anomaly of Rose himself, whose victory last year made him just the second Democrat to represent Staten Island in Congress in more than 30 years.

All of which leads to the third and current anomaly: Rose’s refusal to back impeachment, amid revelations that Trump asked the president of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, even as most other Democrats in vulnerable seats have signed on.

When seven moderate House members with backgrounds in the military or intelligence or defense communities wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post declaring their openness to impeachment, Rose, an Army veteran, was not one of them.

Instead, Rose has issued two noncommittal statements. On Tuesday, he reaffirmed his long-standing opposition to impeachment, even as he said that the whistleblower’s allegations meant that “all options must be on the table.” And on Friday, Rose said that “the story is far from over,” and that “under no circumstances” would he “allow politics to influence my decision regarding this matter.”

“This is a sad day for America,” Rose told reporters at the Capitol on Friday. “This is not something that anybody should be luxuriating in. This is not something that anybody should be celebrating. And certainly this is not something that anybody should be dismissing solely because it’s a Republican president.”

He continued, “The last thing I will ever do is base any decision that I make, or any speed with which I make that decision, off of political calculation.”

Of course, that equivocation has ensured that Rose’s political calculations are all anyone wants to talk about. Democratic activists have accused Rose of putting his own reelection above his duties as a congressman; some have spoken of recruiting a primary challenger. Republicans have assailed Rose for trying to avoid the accountability that comes with a firm position.

Another first-term Democrat from New York, Rep. Anthony Brindisi, has also avoided taking a firm stance on impeachment. Brindisi, who represents Central New York, defeated the Republican incumbent, Claudia Tenney, by a little more than 4,000 votes last year.

But Rose has so far received far more attention for his wavering position, including from the president.

On Friday, Trump reposted an attack ad against Rose on Twitter, which had been shared by the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee. The ad declared that Rose wanted “endless investigations.” On Sunday morning, the president shared the ad again, this time adding his own commentary: “We will win big,” the president wrote, singling out those seeking impeachment in “Trump type districts.”

The result is that, for all Rose’s attempts to distance himself from the impeachment inquiry, his district may be a prime laboratory for one of the biggest questions it has created: Will the Democrats’ about-face, after months of putting off impeachment, help or hurt them in 2020?

Rose’s district is particularly well suited for such a test: Trump defeated Hillary Clinton there in 2016 with 58% of the vote. His support was even more resounding in the primary election: There, Trump captured 82% of the vote against his fellow Republicans.

But the district has occasionally supported Democrats. In 2012, President Barack Obama narrowly won Staten Island. And last year, Rose defeated the Republican incumbent, Dan Donovan, by almost 7 points, or about 12,000 votes, buoyed by the more liberal enclaves on Staten Island’s North Shore, as well as the southern rim of Brooklyn, which makes up a slice of the district.

The challenge facing Rose was apparent on Friday afternoon, on Forest Avenue in West Brighton, a neighborhood of Staten Island that split roughly evenly between Rose and Donovan.

Marguerite Rivas, a professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, said she had voted for Rose and was disappointed with his careful approach. But she accepted it so long as his vote was not needed for impeachment. (So far, 225 House members have backed an impeachment inquiry, more than the simple majority required to impeach.)

“I would rather he play to the middle and get reelected as a Democrat,” Rivas said as she left Kings Arms Diner.

Asked if she thought a more aggressive tack from Rose would cost him his seat, Rivas, a lifelong Staten Island resident, did not hesitate.

“Yes, yes I do,” she said.

Her view was seemingly affirmed at Jody’s Club Forest, an Irish restaurant, where a few men were scattered around the bar. Greeted by a reporter, they immediately demurred.

But, asked again, one man relented. “Want to step outside?” he said.

“This is Staten Island,” the man, Arthur Alinovi, explained outside. “They’d probably hate me.”

Alinovi, now retired from a job at a bank, also voted for Rose. He said he was disappointed in what he perceived as Rose’s preoccupation with holding onto his seat.

“There are more things in life than being a senator or congressman,” Alinovi said.

Still, Alinovi said Rose’s hesitation was not likely to make him change his vote.

“I wouldn’t vote for a Republican if my life depended on it,” he said.

Next door, at Liberty Tavern, Junior Barone was similarly immovable — but in the other direction.

Barone, 70, a retired police officer, said he had met Rose during the campaign, when Rose visited the tavern. Barone had bought him a drink and invited him to chat; he found him likable. And, he said, he agreed with Rose’s call for more information on the impeachment inquiry.

But Barone, a staunch supporter of Trump, said that would not sway him to vote for Rose. “I like him,” Barone said. “The only thing I don’t like about him is he’s a Democrat.”

Jay Jacobs, the state’s Democratic Party chairman, said he respected Rose’s and Brindisi’s decisions, even if he believed those views might soon change.

“Every member has to represent their own unique districts in the way that those districts will support,” Jacobs said. “I have no doubt that when all of the evidence is in, much like the overwhelming majority of the entire nation, both Rose and Brindisi will be where they should be to support and defend our Constitution. How they get there and why they get there will all be irrelevant.”

But others were less forgiving.

Among progressive activist groups, including the ones that powered Rose’s victory last year, displeasure has turned to planning. Sally McMahon, a founder of Fight Back Bay Ridge, an activist group in southern Brooklyn, said Rose seemed overly focused on appealing to Republicans on Staten Island, at the cost of preserving support among progressives in Brooklyn. The district’s Brooklyn neighborhoods accounted for most of Rose’s margin of victory.

“If he does not come out for impeachment, I have a write-in candidate,” McMahon said.

Vivian Wang c.2019 The New York Times Company

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