ALLENTOWN — A lively crowd of more than 200 in a college auditorium here spent over an hour Wednesday night asking questions of their local member of Congress. But the focus wasn’t necessarily on the issue dominating the airwaves.
It was only after about a dozen questions — about education, the environment, and mental health — that a 71-year-old veteran took the microphone and told Rep. Susan Wild that he wanted to give her some suggestions for impeaching President Donald Trump. A loud laugh rolled through the crowd, punctuated by applause.
Days after the House launched a formal impeachment inquiry into whether Trump pressured foreign powers to investigate his rivals, as the political storm roils Washington, the lawmakers who could soon be voting on whether to impeach Trump have come home to their districts for a two-week break.
For many, it means either avoiding or confronting the issue with constituents. The feedback they gather has the potential to shape not only the coming months, but the outcome of next year’s election. Polls already suggest a divided country; two this week found an increasing number of Americans support impeaching Trump and removing him from office, and the country was exactly split on the question, 47% to 47%.
New York Democrat Rep. Max Rose used his Wednesday town hall in Staten Island to come out in support of the impeachment inquiry for the first time. In Michigan, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat, held a town hall Wednesday so that constituents could hear directly from her about what’s happening. In Illinois, Republicans sent out an email blasting Democratic Rep. Sean Casten for attending a discussion where they predicted he would “share his emphatic support for impeachment."
Among Philadelphia-area representatives — several from swing districts considered vital to the state’s fate in the 2020 presidential election — all Democrats except New Jersey’s Rep. Jeff Van Drew now support the inquiry. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, the Bucks County Republican, does not.
Three Democratic House members — Van Drew, Chester County’s Chrissy Houlahan, and South Jersey’s Andy Kim — last week all said they were focused on matters such as prescription-drug prices or veterans’ concerns. Still, Houlahan, Kim, and other suburban Pennsylvania Democrats said they were seeing an uptick in impeachment interest.
To Houlahan’s office alone, more than 2,500 messages have come in about impeachment in the two weeks since a whistle-blower alleged that Trump had pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter days after ordering military aid to Ukraine frozen. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D., Pa.) estimated 95% of her callers are in favor of the inquiry.
“Over the last couple weeks, we’re hearing more just straight-up impeachment talk” from constituents, said Scanlon, of Delaware County, the vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee, one of the panels investigating Trump. “This incident that the whistle-blower reported, where you have the president actually shaking down a foreign leader, using taxpayer dollars, really seems to have struck a nerve — as it should.”
Rep. Madeleine Dean, the Montgomery County Democrat who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, held her own town hall for seniors on Thursday and said constituents at the closed-to-press event echoed the messages her office has been receiving in support of the inquiry.
Along with Scanlon, Dean, and Houlahan, Wild is a first-term Democrat, but she represents a historically purple region that in years past has often been seen as a bellwether for the state. It covers both Northampton County, which Trump narrowly won in 2016, and Lehigh County, which he narrowly lost.
Like other colleagues in swing districts, she had waited until last month to support an impeachment inquiry. She said Wednesday that the whistle-blower complaint filed against Trump by a member of the intelligence community had left lawmakers no choice.
“I didn’t come to Congress to pursue an impeachment inquiry,” she told the crowd at Muhlenberg College, “… [But] we are guided by the actions of the administration.”
Wild said her work on other issues “would not stop” because of the inquiry. And that’s what many wanted to talk about. Constituents had come to ask her about student loans. The Green New Deal. Burials for veterans. Cancer care. Counseling services in schools. Fair treatment for independent contractors.
“More and more children who are coming into the public education system with trauma in their background are becoming increasingly violent in the classroom,” Allentown resident and Berks County schoolteacher Leslie Weaver told Wild. “How can you help us to [serve] the children who have this trauma and are acting violently while keeping everybody safe?”
Others said they came to hear their neighbors’ concerns and updates on Wild’s work in Congress. “I’m more interested in what she’s doing locally for her constituents,” Rick Heinback, a retired Allentown resident who knocked on doors for Wild during her 2018 campaign, said before the forum began.
While roaming the district in recent days, Wild had heard “crickets” on the impeachment issue from constituents, she told reporters. Of calls and e-mails to her office about the issue, however, 85% have been in support of pursuing an inquiry against Trump.
And when impeachment or Trump did come up at different points throughout the 90-minute event, the crowd was loud and reactive.
“If you saw the news conference today, he’s crazy!” Allentown resident Tim Bullard said, suggesting at the microphone that Congress should remove Trump from office. Audience members whooped.
“I’m not going to comment on the president’s state of mind," Wild replied. “An impeachment inquiry is absolutely in order.”
Though clear on impeachment, Wild also made clear that she had resisted pursuing an inquiry and that she would rather focus on local issues, saying the inquiry wouldn’t impede Congress from getting other things done. She and her colleagues are working on “all of the things that all of you want to see progress in," she said.
Wild told the audience that she tells reporters who ask about impeachment that her “district is more interested in knowing about prescription-drug prices and what we’re going to do about the price of insulin."
But she received far more applause — the crowd drowned out her speech — when she said Congress had to pursue the investigation because it would set an unacceptable precedent to ignore Trump’s behavior.
The topic of impeachment was what drew Noreen Yamamoto to the town hall. The 52-year-old Allentown-area Democrat said she didn’t get in line during the forum to ask Wild a question about it because she presumed others would.
Yamamoto was surprised it didn’t get more discussion, but thought Wild said enough about supporting the inquiry.
“It’s so upsetting what’s going on with the president and the way he’s choosing to exert his executive power,” said the occupational therapy assistant. “I wake up every morning wondering if our democracy has gone too far down the wrong road.”