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Listen to ‘The Daily’: The Freshmen: Elissa Slotkin Confronts the Impeachment Backlash

A moderate House Democrat who supports the impeachment inquiry now faces a district of swing voters who aren’t so sure.
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Listen to ‘The Daily’: The Freshmen: Elissa Slotkin Confronts the Impeachment Backlash

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Jessica Cheung and Theo Balcomb, and edited by Lisa Chow and Lisa Tobin

A moderate House Democrat who supports the impeachment inquiry now faces a district of swing voters who aren’t so sure.

michael barbaro
From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.” Today: Days after moderate House Democrats announced they would support an impeachment inquiry against President Trump, they returned home to their swing districts on recess. It’s the first time they’ve faced their constituents since that decision. Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin of Michigan went to three town halls last week. We went with her to all of them. It’s Wednesday, October 9. Congresswoman, I’d love for you to go back to a couple of weeks ago. You’re headed home to your district in Michigan for the first time since you’ve made this decision that you surely knew would upset many of your constituents. Was there any question in your mind whether you would hold town halls while you were back in your district?
elissa slotkin
Oh, no. No. I mean, what we actually did was add more. I obviously knew that the decision was going to be controversial. So no, it was more important than anything for me to get in front of my district and go to the three counties in three days.
mela louise norman
Hi, there. My name is Mela. I’m the congresswoman’s chief of staff. And first and foremost, we did not expect such a big turnout! [CHEERING]
elissa slotkin
And the very first one that we did was just walking in to the Grand Traverse Pie Company in East Lansing, and just basically not being able to get in the door. Now it was surprising how many people were there. And just the physical getting in the room, finding a tiny little corner where I could speak from, making sure people could hear me in the way back —
elissa slotkin
Don’t you guys have anything else going on in the middle of the day? [LAUGHTER] My gosh, I’m thrilled to see so many people here. I wanted to come home to the district and make sure that everybody heard from me directly on what’s gone on in the past week, week and a half.
elissa slotkin
I mean, for me it felt like this is how it’s supposed to work. You know, not everything is going to be unanimously supported by my district. And at a bare minimum, whether people agree with me or not, my job is to make myself available and to let my constituents hear from me directly.
elissa slotkin
In the past week, myself and six other members of the freshman class, all service and veteran — [APPLAUSE] — folk, we all made the decision to come out. We wrote a joint op-ed to The Washington Post. I wrote a similar one here in the Free Press to explain our decision making, and why we are calling for an impeachment inquiry. And I will be honest with you, this was a decision that I did not come to lightly. It is not something that I went to Congress to do. Many of you know, because you called my office, I was reticent to call for impeachment in earlier iterations. But for me, what happened in the past week or week and a half was really something different. The key and sort of most important piece of information is that the president of the United States, the commander in chief, reached out to a foreign president and asked for dirt on an American, on a political opponent. Involving foreigners in our elections in any way, I feel like, has no place in our politics. Today it could be a Republican asking a Ukrainian. Tomorrow it could be a Democrat asking the Chinese to dig up dirt, and on, and on, and on. The idea that there would be any question as to how we got the president that we got, that foreigners played any role in it, was just beyond the pale for me. So I felt it was something that I had to do to uphold my oath of office. [APPLAUSE]
elissa slotkin
And there were people there with strong opinions on both sides of the aisle. There were people who were extremely supportive and had just shown up to thank me for the decision. And there were people who had just shown up to demonstrate their displeasure. And we had to cut it short because the fire marshal was called.
michael barbaro
Because the crowd — because the crowd was too big.
elissa slotkin
The crowd was too big, and it started to be too much for the venue. And so we had to cut it a little bit short.
michael barbaro
So my read from listening to the first of these events that you did, the one that was broken up eventually by the fire marshal, is that people were largely supportive of your decision on the impeachment inquiry, but that might have something to do with the fact that you were in a bluer part of your district.
elissa slotkin
Sure.
michael barbaro
Right?
elissa slotkin
Yes, absolutely. That first one in East Lansing, I mean, that just happens to be a more heavily Democratic area. And so there were more people per capita that were supportive.
michael barbaro
So let’s talk about the second event that you did. Can you give us a picture of that part of your congressional district?
elissa slotkin
So Livingston County is more rural than the other two counties. It’s a place that’s changing, but that tends to be the most conservative part of the district.
michael barbaro
And what percentage, would you say, of the constituents there supported President Trump, and what percentage supported you?
elissa slotkin
So I’d have to look at the exact numbers. But the entire district voted for Donald Trump by seven points. And I’m sure in Livingston County it was stronger than that. I used to joke that our goal in Livingston County was to lose better.
michael barbaro
[LAUGHS]
elissa slotkin
And we did. We won certain areas, like the town of Brighton. And in certain areas we won 50 percent of the vote, but there are certain towns in that area where less than 35 percent.
elissa slotkin
The other piece that, obviously, I’m sure many of you are here to talk about today is the issue of an impeachment inquiry. So let me — [CHEERING]
michael barbaro
So I found it pretty interesting that you could tell right out of the gate that this second town hall was going to be very different.
elissa slotkin
The issue that got to me was this idea that the president, the most powerful man in the world, reached out to a foreigner, a foreign leader, and asked him to dig up dirt on an American, on a political rival.
speaker 1
Not true!
speaker 2
[INTERPOSING VOICES]
speaker 3
Not true! We didn’t ask for that.
speaker 4
Fake news. You’re buying into it. He’s your president.
speaker 5
Foreign leaders help each other all the time.
elissa slotkin
It just — I’m sorry, ma’am. They don’t. Not like that.
speaker
This isn’t your job. Do your job.
elissa slotkin
For me, it was extremely —
speaker 1
This is our representative. Let her talk.
speaker 2
[INTERPOSING VOICES]
speaker 3
We want answers!
elissa slotkin
O.K.
elissa slotkin
For Michigan, which is a swing state, where we grew up having mixed families — my dad was a Republican, my mom was a Democrat. We have a long tradition of being able to disagree without it being vitriolic. And what’s been hard for us, frankly, I think, as a state, is that some of that vitriol that’s in Washington has been imported to Michigan. And it’s made our Thanksgiving dinners uncomfortable. Moms will tell me all the time, I don’t want to talk to other moms when I drop my son off at school because I don’t want to walk on any minefields. Everyone’s walking on eggshells on politics here. And that’s never how we were.
elissa slotkin
I’m going to wait for the facts.
speaker
Wow.
elissa slotkin
I’m going to look at them judiciously. I’m going to understand the sourcing. I’m going to do what I was trained to do, which is to look at the —
speaker 1
If you’re waiting, why did you send the op-ed —
speaker 2
[INTERPOSING VOICES]
speaker 3
Let her talk!
michael barbaro
So I really noticed that in this town hall, the way that kind of national political talking points kept coming up again and again. So I want to get into that. There was this fascinating exchange you had —
speaker 1
I wanted to tell you that we’re at the opposite end. I sent you an email about immigration. And you sent me the coolest letter. [LAUGHTER] A