The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Three more GOP impeachers face their primary juries

Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) speaks during a roundtable discussion on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
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Reps. Peter Meijer, Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse have not grabbed the same type of headlines that other Republicans who voted to impeach President Donald Trump in January 2021.

The Republican trio have remained steadfast in support of their votes against Trump but have otherwise mostly kept their heads down and tried to work hard on issues they have long focused on.

Meijer, an Army intelligence officer in the Iraq War from Michigan, has been a major critic of the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Herrera Beutler, from a massive rural district in southwestern Washington, just got a bill passed to transfer land from the U.S. Forest Service to a local county government.

And Friday, Newhouse took to the House floor to speak out against Democratic legislation as “bureaucratic red tape” that would fail to combat wildfires, a perennial issue in his vast district in eastern Washington.

On Tuesday, all three will learn their political fate with Republican voters back home, helping determine if there was ever a path to victory for a Republican who so directly rebuked Trump. And it will go a long way to determining whether there will be one, two or more pro-impeachment Republicans left when the new Congress is sworn in next January.

“I think we’ve got some very good members of Congress we’re talking about here. It would be a shame to see them not return, because they contribute a lot, are very productive and, I think, represent their districts very well,” Newhouse said in a brief interview after his Friday floor speech. “It’s important to have all opinions represented in any discussion,” he added.

Four of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach have opted to retire rather than face almost certain defeat in their primary races. Another, Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.), lost by a more than a 2-to-1 margin last month, while Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who has drawn the most vociferous opposition from Trump, faces an uphill battle in her August primary.

That has left the anti-Trump faction of the party hoping that at least some victories come among the trio of Herrera Beutler, Meijer and Newhouse to provide voices inside a House Republican conference that are not in lockstep with the former president.

“I think if they win, there’s still a battle, there’s still a fight,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who voted to impeach Trump and decided to retire last fall, said in an interview.

Early on, after that impeachment vote, the 10 Republicans stayed close and talked often, helping raise money for one another. “We had a common thread of kinship,” Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), who chose to retire, said recently.

But for those that sought reelection, it became important to not be viewed solely as part of that group, to be identified more for what they have done for their constituents rather than focusing on impeachment. The group still talks, particularly on experiences related to their Trump vote, but they are running for reelection almost like lone wolves.

“We share a lot of things in common to talk about on that particular subject,” Newhouse said, “but I don’t know that I have a better relationship with the 10 than I do with other people.”

Just one Republican who voted to impeach Trump, Rep. David G. Valadao (Calif.), has secured his party nomination for the November general election, in large part because Trump never endorsed a challenger.

Most Republican insiders suspect that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) used a ton of political capital to keep Trump out of the Valadao primary, as he is a close friend of the party leader and considered the only Republican who can win in a district that gave President Biden a margin of victory of nearly 11 points. With Valadao facing a tough reelection, there remains a chance that all 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump will be swept out of Congress by the end of the year.

Cheney and Kinzinger took the highest profiles in attacking Trump and his role in the insurrection, both serving on the select committee investigating his actions in the Capitol riot in January 2021. Rice spent the final days of his primary last month castigating Trump in national television interviews and calling impeachment the true “conservative vote” in defense of the constitution.

Valadao went on more with his head down and rarely talked about Trump, and now this next trio is attempting something of a hybrid approach. They will defend their votes, if asked, but will also talk about the ongoing work they do that matches up with what their constituents have come to expect.

“The way we look at it, it’s another tough election,” Herrera Beutler told local reporters earlier this month. “I’m not changing course. I’m still the same Republican I’ve always been.”

Meijer, who won the 2020 general election by a comfortable margin of 6 points, faces a unique political situation in which his district lines were redrawn through the decennial redistricting and now sits in a district that Biden won two years ago.

For that reason, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has launched a nearly $500,000 campaign attempting to boost his Trump-endorsed opponent, John Gibbs, whose campaign is basically broke and unable to air its own ads, believing Gibbs would be an easier candidate to defeat in November.

Meijer hopes that shows undecided Republicans in the Grand Rapids-anchored district that he remains their best hope to win in November. “I think the momentum is certainly on our side,” he said in a brief interview Friday, “and I think if anything, the last week, the last 72 hours has shown, that even in a town that is used to some pretty despicable hypocrisy, the D-trip’s meddling has awakened a new sense of, are you kidding me?”

Some Democrats have also expressed alarm that the DCCC, with much of its revenue coming from funds raised by lawmakers, would target someone they consider honorable for his impeachment vote. “I’m disgusted that hard-earned money intended to support Democrats is being used to boost Trump-endorsed candidates,” Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) wrote on Twitter.

“I think Peter is exactly the kind of Republican we want to have around, but at the end of the day we have to win the majority and that is the bigger concern,” Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), who flew with Meijer into Kabul during the chaotic withdrawal, said Friday.

Democrats have stayed out of the two Washington state primaries, districts that will likely stay in the Republican column regardless of who the nominee is. The district Newhouse represents is so conservative that twice in his four elections the top two vote-getters were Republican candidates in the all-in state primary system, so the November general election was an all-Republican contest.

There is a possibility that could happen again, thus extending his race until November. Newhouse’s vote to impeach Trump was one of the more surprising, as he comes from such a conservative district and he had initially signed a legal brief in December 2020 in support of Trump’s effort to contest the election.

Newhouse is somewhat soft-spoken and avoids the spotlight — “I’m not going to be very talkative, not to be rude,” he said at the start of the brief interview Friday — but Trump’s inaction amid all the violence of that day flipped a switch in his principled psyche. “Our country needed a leader, and President Trump failed to fulfill his oath of office,” he said in a statement released before he voted to impeach.

While they may not talk or text as often as they once did, these anti-Trump lawmakers are all closely watching one another’s races, hopeful that enough of them can win their primary as well as in November so that there is a future for Republicans like them. “If they all lose, I think it means we’re doomed in the near term,” Kinzinger said.