Lots of those self same Republicans — who lived for almost 5 many years beneath GOP Reps. Henry J. Hyde and Peter Roskam — had by no means had a Democratic consultant of their lifetime.
However much more than that, they by no means thought that this specific Democrat can be leaning so forcefully into an impeachment inquiry in opposition to a Republican president.
Casten is amongst those that’ve been dubbed “frontliners” by their get together — freshman Democrats whose victories final yr had been a trademark of the blue wave that worn out suburban GOP incumbents and who face uphill re-election battles in 2020. Many frontliners are inclined to tiptoe across the politically thorny problems with the day like impeachment, figuring out that their stance may make them a one-term lawmaker and, in flip, trigger Democrats to lose their Home majority.
Casten has chosen a unique route.
The soft-spoken lawmaker was one of many first weak Democrats to return out in help of an impeachment inquiry. And regardless of the political dangers, he’s embracing it greater than anybody on Capitol Hill proper now.
Casten, a 47-year-old former power government who ran on local weather change, is a comparatively unknown entity in Washington. He shuns the limelight and isn’t a fixture on cable information like a few of his fellow freshmen. However right here in his C-shaped district west of Chicago, he has put himself within the highlight greater than another first-term Democrat — partly as a result of he is aware of it gained’t be straightforward to win once more right here in 2020.
Once I met up with him for an interview on Saturday morning, he had performed 13 city corridor occasions since taking workplace in January. By eight:30 p.m., that quantity stood at 19, after a grueling day crisscrossing the bellwether district and taking voters’ questions for six hours.
INTERACTIVE: See the place Home lawmakers stand on impeachment
Over the summer time recess, Casten held a city corridor occasion centered completely on impeachment. Earlier than lawmakers left Washington for the six-week break, he implored his fellow freshmen throughout a closed-door assembly to carry comparable occasions. All of them thought he was loopy.
However in some respects, that was to be anticipated for somebody who got here out in help of an impeachment inquiry in opposition to Trump in June. In reality, he was one of many first frontliners — together with Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) and Katie Porter (D-Calif.) — to again such a course of.
Once they had been making ready to go public, the three of them requested to satisfy with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They needed to provide her the courtesy, Casten mentioned, as a result of their help of formal impeachment proceedings had the potential to muddy Pelosi’s cautious technique on the time.
“To her credit score, she mentioned, ‘You don’t want my permission; you simply must do the suitable factor for you,’” Casten advised me, in regards to the beforehand unreported assembly.
Pelosi caught to her “examine, legislate, litigate” technique whilst a majority of her caucus was supporting an impeachment inquiry. On the time, it was particular counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference within the 2016 election — and proof he uncovered exhibiting that Trump sought to hinder the probe — that was driving Democrats to help formal proceedings.
It wasn’t till a completely totally different scandal surfaced that Pelosi determined to lastly embrace an impeachment inquiry. Within the lower than two weeks since she formalized the impeachment course of, Home investigators are quickly intensifying their efforts to spotlight what Democrats say is damning proof that Trump abused his workplace to solicit overseas help to dig up filth on his political rivals.
The tip of September was an inconvenient time for lawmakers to go away Washington for a two-week recess, simply days after Pelosi formalized the Home’s impeachment inquiry and investigators started amassing proof and subpoenaing witnesses in earnest. So it offered Casten and different weak Democrats with a problem as they face the music from voters again house.
At every of his occasions on Saturday, Casten emphasised what he referred to as the “somberness of this second.”
“If you happen to, in your head, would have a good time impeachment or would have a good time exoneration, you’ve obtained to straighten out your head,” he mentioned. “There’s nothing to have a good time in regards to the second that we’re in.”
“We’ve got been compelled into this by the circumstances,” he added.
After a grueling stretch listening to voters grill Casten, right here’s what I discovered about Democrats’ months-long trod towards impeachment proceedings.
You’ll be able to’t transfer public opinion towards impeachment if you happen to don’t embrace it.
For Casten, the June assembly with Pelosi was prescient. He advised the speaker that the polling on impeachment — which was abysmal on the time — was irrelevant to him till Democrats had a united entrance convincing the general public that impeachment can be price taking a look at.
“I can’t get on the market and educate the voters if they are saying, ‘Effectively, given all of these things, why aren’t you in favor of beginning the impeachment course of?’” Casten mentioned. “I mentioned, properly, mainly, I wish to get out to a degree the place I can educate the voters — and in order that was actually my motivation for popping out, as a result of I needed to be some power of training.”
Casten backed impeachment proceedings on June 20. Over the subsequent three months, Pelosi caught to her technique, whilst extra of her Democratic colleagues broke ranks. The polling on impeachment remained stagnant — till two weeks in the past, when the speaker reacted swiftly to Trump’s admission that he requested President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to analyze former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s potential opponent within the 2020 election.
“What we’ve seen over the past couple weeks is that after the get together will get behind this, the polls transfer,” Casten mentioned. “As a result of on the finish of the day, I believe persons are typically extra motivated by reality than lies. However we haven’t been on the market telling that story.”
Pelosi’s critics — notably these on the progressive left who’ve been girding for impeachment proceedings for the reason that day Mueller’s report was launched — have touched on comparable arguments in latest months to make the case that public help for impeachment wouldn’t magically develop by means of Home Judiciary Committee hearings on the legalese surrounding obstruction of justice. They accused Democratic leaders particularly of dithering as they didn’t maintain momentum amid the White Home’s all-out blockade of subpoenas in search of paperwork and witness testimony, forcing Home Democrats into the arduous and sluggish federal courtroom system to hunt compliance.
Ultimately, although, it took a completely totally different scandal to get Pelosi to “sure” — one which has united Democrats in outrage and one that’s markedly simpler to painting as an impeachable offense.
“I discover on this job, you are able to do the work in Washington. However you actually can’t transfer public opinion very a lot,” Casten advised me. “If you’re within the district, you’re not voting on stuff, you’re not going into committee hearings. However you may transfer public opinion.”
“So the bully pulpit that I’ve is far more efficient within the district than nationally proper now,” he mentioned.
Within the meantime, Democrats are attempting — with various levels of success — to push again on Trump’s unproven claims about Biden’s efforts to take away a controversial Ukrainian prosecutor, and the president’s fixation on a debunked concept that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered within the 2016 election.
At 5 of Casten’s six city halls on Saturday, he was pressed on these claims.
Trump’s claims about Biden are resonating amongst his political base.
This one might come as no shocker, for the reason that president’s base of voters has remained loyal to him by means of scandal after scandal, transgression after transgression.
However Trump’s efforts to color Biden as corrupt for making an attempt to oust a prosecutor who at one level was investigating an organization tied to his son Hunter appeared to resonate amongst his supporters who attended Casten’s city halls — a few of whom had been carrying “Make America Nice Once more” hats and “Trump 2020” t-shirts.
Casten was ready for these inquiries. Proper off the bat at his first city corridor right here, a lady tore into Pelosi and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Home Intelligence Committee, accusing them of “mendacity their little butts off” and saying that a whistleblower’s criticism about Trump’s interactions with Ukraine’s president “appears like a bunch of 13-year-old ladies gossiping.”
Constituent Steven Wooden and his spouse accused Rep. Sean Casten of cheapening the political discourse by deriding Trump’s immigration insurance policies as “racist” and referring to Trump’s claims about Biden as “crackpot conspiracy theories.” | Andrew Desiderio/POLITICO
At an occasion later within the day in Bartlett, Sick., a constituent requested Casten why he wasn’t condemning Biden’s actions.
In each cases, Casten spoke for greater than 5 minutes in regards to the nitty-gritty of the claims Trump and his allies have made about Biden. He unapologetically declared that there was “no ‘there’ there on the Biden story,” and after listening to a query in regards to the unsubstantiated concept that Ukraine was chargeable for meddling within the 2016 election, he advised the voter that she was espousing a “deep-down-the-rabbit-hole, loopy conspiracy concept.”
Casten’s posture towards impeachment comes with actual political dangers.
Republicans have misplaced vital floor in districts like Casten’s within the Trump period — districts that had been as soon as the anchor of the GOP. The get together has struggled to retain help amongst suburban moderates, girls and minorities particularly, and in 2018 the GOP misplaced many of those seats within the suburbs of Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Republicans’ technique for profitable again the Home in 2020 is to tie Democrats like Casten to the extra progressive voices in his get together and make the case that they’re too excessive for his or her districts — from their help for impeachment to their rhetoric in regards to the president.
So although Democrats like Casten are assured of their pushback in opposition to Trump and his allies, the terrain in traditionally conservative districts like this one stays fraught with political landmines — ones that Casten tacitly acknowledged, whilst he tore into Trump on points utterly unrelated to impeachment.
“If the president screwed up, on the finish of the day he’s obtained to be gone,” Steven Wooden advised me after confronting Casten as he was leaving his city corridor in Fox River Grove, Sick.
However Wooden stays satisfied that Trump did nothing incorrect, and he took problem with the best way Casten described the president’s claims about Biden, particularly his declarative assertion that Trump and his supporters are “actively suppressing info.” I witnessed the heated trade, throughout which Wooden and his spouse accused Casten of cheapening the political discourse when he derided Trump’s immigration insurance policies as “racist” and referred to Trump’s claims about Biden as “crackpot conspiracy theories.”
“Individuals who ignore their morals and their ethics with a purpose to help one thing or ignore the info to help a reprehensible morality, I’m not going to faux to — ” Casten advised Wooden as a staffer intervened to whisk him away to his subsequent city corridor.
Casten later advised me that he’s unapologetic about each his stances and his rhetoric as a result of anything can be a betrayal to his true self. On the similar time, although, he dangers alienating Republicans who may in any other case help him.
“The partisan affiliation of the district is massively much less related than the morality of the district,” Casten mentioned. “I voted for George H.W. Bush. I voted for Bob Dole. I don’t assume my morals have modified. However I don’t assume these people are very properly represented by the prevailing elected members of the Republican Celebration.”
“I’d quite,” he added, “be a politician who says, these are my non-negotiables, and if you happen to prefer it, vote for me, and if you happen to don’t prefer it, don’t vote for me, than somebody who says I’ll be morally ambiguous and I’ll simply blow forwards and backwards to wherever the general public goes. As a result of that ain’t me .”
Nonetheless, Casten made some implicit overtures to Republicans every time he was confronted over the Ukraine scandal. At almost all the six city halls, he mentioned there was at the least one space wherein Trump had performed a greater job than Barack Obama: his willingness to arm the Ukrainians with deadly defensive weapons as they battle again in opposition to Russia’s aggressive incursions into Japanese Europe.
Regardless of impeachment fervor, voters nonetheless care about coverage agendas.
Impeachment is all-consuming on cable information and within the nationwide press — and for good motive. However many liberal voters throughout Illinois’ sixth Congressional District, whereas supportive of the impeachment effort, don’t need coverage priorities like gun management and local weather change to take a again seat. At one of many city halls, impeachment didn’t come up even as soon as.
Gun-control laws continues to be languishing amid Trump’s obvious opposition to tightening background checks; the U.S.-Mexico-Canada commerce settlement stays stalled amid negotiations with Home Democrats; and lawmakers have but to behave on bipartisan, complete immigration reform.
It’s a mirrored image of Pelosi’s long-held view that Democrats gained management of the Home in 2018 not due to impeachment, however due to their concentrate on kitchen-table points like well being care. Pelosi typically reminds her members that they’ll stroll and chew gum on the similar time.
To make certain, at 4 of the six city halls, voters spent nearly all of the session asking about points associated to impeachment. It’s precisely what Casten anticipated, and he got here ready.
Everyone loves hammering the media.
Casten doesn’t name the press “faux information” or the “enemy of the folks.” However at every city corridor occasion, he singled out the nationwide information media for portraying what he sees as a false narrative of what occurs in Washington.
It’s a typical chorus at city halls throughout America — rural or city, liberal or conservative, wealthy or poor.
Casten knocked the media for what he sees as a portrayal of the Democratic Celebration as being managed by the extra progressive voices like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and others who, he quipped, “have extra Twitter followers than me.”
He made the purpose that Democrats gained again the Home not due to lawmakers like Ocasio-Cortez who ran to the left of incumbents , however due to the 39 freshman Democrats who flipped Republican-held districts and are typically centrists.
Current tales about impeachment
“The half that I want obtained extra protection,” Casten advised me once I requested about his media criticisms, “is the truth that there may be such huge ideological range within the Democratic Celebration, that it’s a large enough tent to accommodate from AOC and Bernie Sanders out to Dan Lipinski and Joe Manchin, and it implies that on nearly each coverage dialog we’re having, the coverage debate is going on within the Democratic Celebration.”
“On the opposite facet of the aisle, you’ve gotten from Peter King to Steve King,” Casten mentioned, referring to 2 well-known Republican congressmen, the latter of whom has been shunned by his get together for racist rhetoric. “All of them sing from the identical hymnal as a result of they solely personal one e-book. The period when the Republican Celebration was actually engaged in concepts is gone.”
At a city corridor in Sleepy Hole, Sick., a 69-year-old man pressed Casten to “push again on these crazies,” referring to the progressive “squad” of Ocasio-Cortez and Reps. Ayann Pressley (D-Mass.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). In Glen Ellyn, Sick., one other man confronted Casten about Omar’s feedback about Jewish folks, which had been criticized as being anti-Semitic.
Casten drew applause when mentioned that whereas he condemns “horribly inappropriate” remarks from members of his personal get together, “we’re far too fast to sentence hatred when it comes out of a brown lady in a head scarf than we’re when it comes out the mouth of a white supremacist.”
Casten may not like how these dynamics are portrayed on cable information, however his exchanges with voters who help the president nearly felt just like the heated cable information segments that generally go viral. Individuals are having the identical arguments on the native stage, and it’s one more reflection of how polarized the political local weather has turn out to be.