ALEXANDRIA — Democratic Rep. Don Beyer took heat from supporters of President Donald Trump during a town hall meeting in the suburbs of Washington, D.C, Thursday night.
Hundreds of people packed into a high school auditorium in Beyer’s deep blue northern Virginia district, where numerous backers of the president spoke out against the impeachment proceedings.
One man equated the process to a partisan coup d’etat. “We should start doing the people’s work” and drop the investigation, he said.
Other participants urged lawmakers to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, as well as the so-called “deep state,” and said the impeachment process was dividing the nation — often to boos from other members of the audience.
At one point, a heckler shouted, “You disgust me!” from the back of the room.
Beyer, who was the first member of Virginia’s congressional delegation to call for an impeachment inquiry, defended the proceedings.
Democrats are not conducting the inquiry to destroy Trump, he said. “We’re doing this to fulfill our constitutional duty” and are treating the process “as fairly as possible.”
Impeachment “is not something that we celebrate,” he told them. “We’re doing this out of a grave sense of trying to fill out our responsibility … as best we can.”
Ignoring the president’s alleged misdeeds, he added, is much more dangerous in the long run.
The liberal district in the backyard of the nation’s capital went for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by nearly 74 percent in 2016, and about the same percentage of constituents in the district support the impeachment inquiry in emails to his office, Beyer said.
Beyer: Dems ‘will probably’ lose seats over impeachment
The meeting — which featured a bipartisan panel of three experts in national security and constitutional law from D.C.-area think tanks — was not one-sided.
Roughly half of the questioners cheered Beyer and House Democrats for pursuing the inquiry, chastised Republicans for spreading misinformation and called on lawmakers to investigate other alleged misdeeds and other members of the administration.
One participant praised Beyer’s leadership in opposition to White House adviser Stephen Miller, who espoused a white nationalist ideology and advanced conspiracy theories in emails to a conservative website during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Beyer and other Democrats sent a letter to the White House this week calling for Miller’s removal, writing: “A documented white nationalist has no place in any presidential administration.”
The three-term Democrat opened the town hall event by addressing what he called “myths” that Democrats have sought to remove the president since he was first elected — a common conservative talking point — and that the outcome of the vote is predetermined.
“Most of us did not run for office to impeach the president,” he said, noting that some in his party “will probably” lose their seats as a result.
He pointed to freshman Democrats in competitive districts, like Reps. Abigail Spanberger of Spotsylvania and Elaine Luria of Virginia Beach, who ousted GOP incumbents last fall. Spanberger beat David Brat with 50 percent of the vote and Luria defeated Scott Taylor with 51 percent of the vote.
They and other vulnerable Democrats “realize they could be one-term members” because of their support for the impeachment investigation, he said.
Virginia’s four Republican House members have expressed opposition to impeachment.
Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-9th) has called the impeachment process a “partisan distraction” and Rep. Rob Wittman (R-1st) has said the House should be spending more time on legislative business. And Reps. Ben Cline (R-6th) and Denver Riggleman (R-5th) called the impeachment process “frustrating” in a joint town hall meeting last month.
But Beyer said GOP opposition isn’t as strong as it appears to be in public, and pointed to an “exodus” of Republicans who are retiring this year as evidence of concern in the GOP ranks. Some Republicans — especially moderates — have expressed private concerns but are afraid to do so publicly because the political consequences are swift and severe, he said.
“I wish they would be more vocal, but they have to follow their conscience and live with themselves.”
Beyer also said Congress is making progress on legislative business despite claims to the contrary and pointed to possible ratification of a trade deal with Mexico and Canada that would update the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Chances are good that the Democratic-controlled House will ratify the “new NAFTA” before the end of the year — even though it would hand Trump a legislative victory heading into an election year, he said. “We’re not going to hold back on good policy just because it may be a win for Donald Trump.”
Earlier on Thursday, however, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), suggested that the updated trade deal is unlikely to pass in 2019.
Beyer also pointed to a House-passed bill to expand background checks on gun purchases, a looming vote on legislation that would lower the cost of prescription drugs, and his efforts to address economic inequality, protect animals and more.
“Please don’t buy that line that the House isn’t doing anything but impeachment,” he said.