By: Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
WASHINGTON - In the end, the members of Congress from Wisconsin mirrored the almost perfect partisan divide in the House of Representatives in the impeachment of President Donald Trump Wednesday.
Democrat Ron Kind, the only lawmaker from the state who kept his vote under wraps until the end, voted for both articles of impeachment against Trump — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — joining all but three members of his party on one count and all but four on another.
Every House Republican voted against impeachment. One independent (and former Republican) supported impeachment.
Kind, a centrist Democrat from a western Wisconsin district that Trump narrowly carried in the 2016 presidential race, was one of just a handful of lawmakers who refused to declare their position in the days and hours leading up to the vote.
Of the 31 House Democrats in “Trump districts,” 29 voted for impeachment Wednesday, including Kind. The La Crosse Democrat had previously voted to endorse the impeachment inquiry and had sharply criticized the president’s conduct in the Ukraine scandal.
But the very competitive makeup of his heavily rural district set him apart from his two Democratic colleagues from Wisconsin (Mark Pocan and Gwen Moore) and from most Democrats in the House who hold more one-sided seats. The voters in Kind's very “purple” district voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2012 by 11 points but for Trump by 4 points in 2016.
"It’s clear the President’s actions were a flagrant abuse of constitutional power; it was unlawful, and it jeopardized our national security," Kind said in a statement. “My vote today was not about the President himself—more importantly, it was about defending the rule of law, our Constitution, and what signal we send future presidents of what is acceptable behavior."
Before and during the House debate Wednesday, Democrats blamed the extremely partisan nature of the Trump impeachment fight on spineless Republicans circling the wagons around Trump while ignoring clear presidential misconduct. Republicans blamed the partisan nature of the debate on Democratic haters hellbent on taking Trump down.
Democrats said failing to impeach Trump would dangerously lower the bar for future presidential conduct and green-light gross abuses of executive power.
Republicans said impeaching Trump would dangerously lower the bar for impeachment and make impeachment a casual political weapon.
Democrats warned of Congress enabling an overbearing, anything-goes presidency.
Republicans warned of a brazen congressional coup against the president.
Democrats said they approached impeachment reluctantly and solemnly. Republicans accused them of approaching impeachment zealously and happily.
It was a debate that crystallized both the GOP's full-throated, whole-hearted embrace of Trump and the Democratic Party's utter dismay, disdain and alarm over his presidency.
Wisconsin Republicans Jim Sensenbrenner, Glenn Grothman, Mike Gallagher and Bryan Steil all voted no.
Kind, Moore and Pocan voted yes.
The state delegation would normally cast eight votes in the House, but northern Wisconsin's 7th District is one of four across the country that has no representation at the moment, due to the resignation of Republican Sean Duffy.
Sensenbrenner was one of the first Republicans to speak during the final House debate.
“Why are we here? We’re here because ... the Democratic caucus has been hijacked by the radical left. They have wanted to reverse the course of the 2016 election ever since Donald Trump won that election,” said Sensenbrenner, who was a central figure among House Republicans in the 1998 impeachment of Democrat Bill Clinton.
“Stop this charade,” Sensenbrenner said.
Moore said from the floor:
“We’re talking about a president who subverted national security by soliciting foreign interference in our elections — the exact thing our founding fathers feared and the exact circumstance for which they fashioned the impeachment clause. Our democracy, our Constitution deserves standing up for.”
Steil said on Twitter Wednesday:
“Today, I will be voting against impeachment. There is an election in less than a year. The American people should decide if a president should remain in office, not a handful of partisan politicians in Washington.”
Grothman told Democrats from the House floor: “President Trump is keeping his campaign promises and you hate him for that.”
Pocan said from the floor:
“This is not about a single call or a single transcript. This is about a perfect storm, months of activity directly ordered by the president … an orchestrated plan demanding a foreign power interfere in our democracy. President Trump betrayed his oath of office … Today we send a clear signal to this president and all future presidents no one is above the law.”
Moore said in an interview before the vote, “I keep trying to read and find some exculpatory evidence to support the president. I keep trying to find something that would say, 'Well, maybe, (he’s not guilty),' and I just can’t.”
Sensenbrenner said in his floor remarks a key failing of the case for impeachment was that “there are no allegations the president has committed a crime. We’ve had almost three years of nonstop investigations … at no time is there any evidence that Donald J. Trump violated any criminal statutes of the United States.”
In an interview before the vote, Sensenbrenner was asked whether he thought Trump did nothing wrong, or whether he believed the president did something inappropriate but his conduct wasn't impeachable.
"Well, I think we’re splitting hairs there. I would say probably both," Sensenbrenner said. "If I were in his shoes I would have dealt with the Ukrainians differently than he did, (but) I don’t think the phone call in question is an impeachable offense."
Gallagher said in a TV interview that "I worry this opens up a Pandora’s box where we’re mired in a state of perpetual impeachment."
The party-line pattern in the Trump impeachment vote was considerably starker than the votes in 1998 over Democrat Clinton’s impeachment, which were themselves quite partisan.
In the Trump impeachment, only three lawmakers broke with their party majorities on one article and only four on another. All were Democrats opposing impeachment, and one was in the process of switching parties. A fourth Democrat, presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, voted "present" on both articles. One former Republican, now an independent (Justin Amash of Michigan), voted for impeachment.
In the Clinton impeachment, five Democrats broke with their party to support impeachment on three articles and one Democrat crossed over on a fourth article.
Meanwhile, 81 Republicans broke with their party to oppose one article, 28 voted against another article, 12 voted against a third article and five voted against a fourth article.
Two of the four articles against a Democratic president failed in the GOP-controlled House in 1998.
Kind was in the House during that impeachment fight as well, breaking with his party to support an impeachment inquiry against Clinton but voting with his party against impeachment.
The political consequences of his votes this time, if any, remain to be seen.
The Trump campaign declared after Wednesday night's vote, "This evening Ron Kind officially chose his party over his own constituents, securing his place in the most partisan caucus in history."
It's not clear how serious a GOP opponent Kind will draw in 2020. Polling over the course of 2019 shows Trump has a negative approval rating among Kind’s constituents (42% approve, 55% disapprove). It also shows his district is almost evenly divided over impeachment, with slightly more people opposing it than supporting it.