Updated 7:15 p.m.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, whose district covers New Jersey’s southernmost counties, will switch parties and become a Republican, a GOP official told the Associated Press Saturday.
Top House Republicans have been told of Van Drew’s decision, according to a GOP official familiar with the conversations.
Van Drew, who has long opposed House Democrats’ impeachment effort, discussed switching his party affiliation in a meeting with President Donald Trump, an administration official said Saturday. That official, who was not authorized to discuss the private conversation and spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Van Drew met with Trump in the White House on Friday.
The New York Times reported that Van Drew began informing his staff of the switch Saturday. In the meeting Friday, the Times reported, Van Drew “sought Trump’s blessing” for the move.
The switch by Van Drew comes just days before the full U.S. House of Representatives is set to approve two articles of impeachment against Trump. Democrats, who hold the majority in the House, expect support from all but a few of their members. No Republicans are expected to join them.
The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate is all but certain to then acquit Trump after a trial in January.
A senior Democratic aide said Van Drew had not notified House Democratic leaders about his decision. All the aides spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.
The senior Democratic aide provided what was described as a poll conducted earlier this month by Van Drew’s campaign showing that by more than a 2-1 margin, people in his district would prefer a different candidate than Van Drew in the 2020 Democratic primary and general election.
Rumors surfaced last week that Van Drew might switch parties, and he repeatedly denied them to reporters. But he reaffirmed his plan to oppose impeachment, barring new evidence.
“It doesn’t mean that I agree with everything the president may have said or done. It means that I don’t believe that these are impeachable offenses,“ he said in an interview Thursday.
Van Drew and a spokesperson did not answer their cellphones or return text messages from the AP on Saturday.
Van Drew has argued that the impeachment process is likely to further divide the country, and that it would be better to let voters decide Trump’s fate in next year’s election. In October, he was one of two Democrats to oppose a House resolution that formalized the public impeachment inquiry into Trump.
A longtime state senator serving his first term in Congress, in 2018 Van Drew won a district that had been under Republican control for nearly two decades and narrowly favored Trump in 2016.
Establishment Democrats like New Jersey State Senate President Stephen Sweeney had signaled they might pull their support from Van Drew. And earlier this week progressive activist Helen Duda said they were looking for a candidate to challenge Van Drew in the 2020 Democratic primary.
“I don’t think he realizes how upset people are about his vote against the impeachment, against even having a hearing,” Duda said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.