U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was greeted with thunderous applause and chants of “Nancy, Nancy, Nancy” as she delivered the closing remarks at the New Jersey State Democratic Committee conference here Friday night.
But the often-boisterous crowd came to a hush when Pelosi walked away from the teleprompter displaying her prepared remarks, grabbed a microphone, and went off script to address the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump and his conversations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“The last 10 days have been very difficult for our country,” Pelosi said. “This is not a cause for any joy that we have to go down this path. It’s a difficult decision to make. But we have that obligation.”
Pelosi went on to paint the impeachment inquiry as an existential crisis for the United States and reflected on how the Founding Fathers might have viewed this time. “Our founders would never have thought that anyone would be so abusive” of the system, she said.
Other notable Democrats attending the conference at Harrah’s Resort & Casino included presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker and Gov. Phil Murphy.
Booker struck a broader tone of hope and unity during his address to the 2,500 New Jersey Democratic lawmakers, activists, and party supporters attending the event. When asked what he thought of the impeachment inquiry, he had a measured response.
“Right now, it is very damning what we know, but we should take more time and do the proper investigation,” he said.
Booker also came to the defense of Vice President Joe Biden when asked if his primary rival should be investigated because of financial dealings his son Hunter had in Ukraine.
“I think these allegations of Biden are absurd, and there’s no substance to them whatsoever,” said Booker. “Joe Biden is a statesman in our country, and there’s no indication of wrongdoing whatsoever.”
Murphy also mostly eschewed direct talk of impeachment during his remarks but thanked Pelosi for “taking the necessary step of starting an impeachment inquiry.”
As Murphy prepares to take a high-profile position as chair of the Democratic Governors Association in December 2019, he hesitated to make any commitments on whether he would support impeaching Trump.
“Let’s not put the cart before the horse,” Murphy said, adding that Pelosi has “a process in place that’s really well-articulated, and we’ll see how this turns.”
Nationwide, support for an impeachment inquiry has grown this week, as a whistle-blower complaint and memo outlining Trump’s communication with Zelensky have become public.
As of Friday evening, 225 House members were in support of an investigation of Trump, and nearly all New Jersey House Democrats have come out in support of a probe.
“We are now faced with accusations from numerous sources that our president attempted to pressure a foreign government to investigate one of his rivals in the next presidential election,” said Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a North Jersey Democrat, in a statement. “I think these accusations should be addressed with all of the tools at Congress’ disposal, including articles of impeachment.”
Sherrill was one of seven House Democrats who wrote a joint op-ed in the Washington Post outlining a need to impeach Trump, which reportedly influenced Pelosi’s decision to launch a formal inquiry.
Rep. Andy Kim, who represents a South Jersey congressional district Trump won by 6 percentage points in 2016, now supports an impeachment inquiry after initially being unsure of whether the House should move forward with the process.
“By urging the Ukrainian government to take action to influence our democracy, Trump has violated that power and the trust of the American people,” Kim said in a statement on Wednesday. “If the facts are corroborated, that violation, and my understanding of its implications, has led me to come to the conclusion that the president has committed an impeachable offense.”
Jeff Van Drew, a congressman from Cape May County, is the lone New Jersey House Democrat against impeachment, just one of 12 House Democrats nationwide not in support of an inquiry.
“I’m afraid all we’re going to have is a failed impeachment,” Van Drew said in an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News on Thursday night. “Why don’t we let the people do the impeachment by voting in the electoral process?”
According to recent polling, the appetite for impeachment among New Jersey residents is less than enthusiastic. Only 37% of New Jersey residents believe Trump should be impeached, according to a Monmouth University poll. The poll, however, was taken before news of the whitstle-blower’s complaint became public.
The president remains deeply unpopular in the heavily Democratic Garden State, with 56% of voters disapproving of his performance in office, according to the same poll, and just 34% saying Trump should be re-elected. For 2020, 59% say they want someone else.