Lee not rattled by political risk of impeachment vote

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(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Nevada Rep. Susie Lee cast perhaps the riskiest vote yet of her budding political career Wednesday when she backed an effort to impeach the president, who narrowly won her district in 2016.

She joined the state’s other Democrats in the U.S. House — Reps. Steven Horsford and Dina Titus — in voting for two articles of impeachment, both of which cleared the House largely along party lines.

The freshman Democrat told said in an interview ahead of the vote that the politics of the vote wouldn’t factor into the decision.

“Honestly, if that was weighing into my decision-making, I probably wouldn’t vote for it,” she said. “But the bottom line is this is a clear constitutional crisis that we’re in.”

The state’s lone Republican — Rep. Mark Amodei — disagreed, voting against both articles after first expressing, and then recanting, openness to the inquiry.

While significant for all four of Nevada’s House lawmakers, the historic vote could be particularly fraught for Lee, one of 31 Democrats whose districts backed Trump.

The vote was a “no-win situation” for so-called Trump-district Democrats, who must hold on to their Democratic base while also appealing to some Trump voters, according to David Wasserman, an editor with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “This is a process most [of them] would like to put behind them as quickly as possible.”

Titus and Amodei handily won fifth terms last year and are seen as safe bets for reelection in 2020. Horsford, meanwhile, won a second term last year with only 52% of the vote, but he represents a district Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and is seen as a safer bet than Lee.

Lee, who also won with 52% vote, is regarded as potentially more vulnerable next year because of her district’s slightly more Republican lean. Trump won the suburban district south of Las Vegas by 1% in 2016.

Rebecca Gill, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said Lee’s impeachment vote could make her bid for reelection more difficult.

Republicans hope so.

“Susie Lee knows this impeachment process is a sham and her hatred of President Trump will cost her this election,” Torunn Sinclair, a spokeswoman for the National Congressional Campaign Committee (NRCC), said in a statement.

The NRCC put Lee on its 2020 target list, and an outside group that backs House Republicans has aired impeachment-related attack ads in her district.

But Lee called the ads false and brushed them aside.“I believe that voters are smart enough to understand [that] and I believe I have a track record to show that I actually have delivered on the promises that I made and I will continue to do that.”

Even if she fails to win a second term on account of her vote, she said she would step down knowing she “did the right thing.”

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of a nonpartisan political newsletter run out of the University of Virginia, doubts impeachment will play a big role in the race anyway. “My guess is that impeachment is not going to be emphasized much.”

Wasserman agreed. “Voters have pretty short memories. Trump is likely to generate hundreds more firestorms between now and next November, and it’s possible we could already have moved on to the next crisis by the spring.”

Impeachment could help shore up support among Democrats, too. The general effect of impeachment has been to reinforce pre-existing partisan beliefs, according to David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Unlike the impeachment inquiry into President Nixon, “we’re dealing with a situation where new facts don’t seem to register,” Gill said.

Lee has raised $1.4 million so far, according to the latest campaign finance data, which puts her in a strong financial position heading into 2020.

Lee announced her position on impeachment last week, after spending time reviewing historical documents and reports related to the House impeachment inquiry.

“This is a president who was willing to, first of all, bully and bribe an ally who is dependent on the United States, using as a leverage federally appropriated military aid to basically gain some intelligence or gain some acknowledgement of an investigation into a political rival,” she told the Current. The president’s “complete and blatant obstruction of Congress at every step of the way” prompted her to back the inquiry, she added.

Wednesday’s House vote is expected to lead to a trial in the Senate, where Nevada Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen — both Democrats in their first terms — will serve as jurors. Neither is up for re-election in 2020. That trial is expected to begin in January.

Allison Stevens
Allison Stevens is a Washington D.C. reporter for States Newsroom, a network of state-based nonprofit news outlets that includes Nevada Current.