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House Democrats in Trump districts tread delicately on impeachment

Only seven of the 235 House Democrats have not articulated support for the impeachment inquiry. Each represents a district President Trump won in 2016. John Yang traveled to upstate New York to find out what constituents are saying to one of the holdouts, Rep. Anthony Brindisi, who narrowly defeated a Republican incumbent in 2018.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As of today, only seven of the 235 Democrats in the House of Representatives aren't supporting the inquiry into impeaching the president. Each one represents a district President Trump won in 2016.

    John Yang traveled to Upstate New York to find out what constituents there are saying to one of the holdouts.

  • Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-N.Y.:

    I work for you.

  • John Yang:

    It was freshman Democratic Representative Anthony Brindisi's 11th town hall meeting since taking office, this one in the new Hartford, New York, high school auditorium.

  • Rep. Anthony Brindisi:

    I'm here to listen, which I think is the most important role any representative can play, is to be a good listener.

  • John Yang:

    And he got an earful from both sides in the debate over impeachment, from supporters of President Trump in this GOP-leaning district in Upstate New York that gave Mr. Trump 54 percent of the vote:

  • Man:

    What have you said against your colleagues who would promote this unfairness of the president?

  • Man:

    What about the 95 percent who have rushed to a conclusion about impeachment? What have you said to those people?

  • Rep. Anthony Brindisi:

    I can't change people's minds.

  • Man:

    What have you said to them?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Rep. Anthony Brindisi:

    I say what I — all I can say is what I believe and what I am going to do as a representative. I can't control what colleagues…

  • Man:

    You said you speak up.

  • Rep. Anthony Brindisi:

    I say…

  • Man:

    Have you spoken up to those people?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Rep. Anthony Brindisi:

    Absolutely.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Rep. Anthony Brindisi:

    Do you want me to answer?

  • Man:

    Yes. I'd love to hear…

  • Rep. Anthony Brindisi:

    OK. I'm trying to.

  • John Yang:

    And from Democrats who helped Brindisi unseat a Republican last year in a narrow 1 percentage point victory.

  • Man:

    Do you think the president of the United States is above the law? And if you do not, then what do you plan to do about it?

  • John Yang:

    For two hours, Brindisi delicately threaded a needle, raising concerns about the president's behavior, but avoiding explicit support for the impeachment inquiry.

  • Woman:

    You should at least come out forcefully on, I want to see this evidence. This wishy-washy is for the birds. It really is.

    (APPLAUSE)

  • Rep. Anthony Brindisi:

    In my opinion, the standard is, is the president a danger to the country, putting our national security at risk.

  • Audience:

    He is!

  • Audience:

    Yes, he is!

  • Woman:

    We're the ones who are voting for you.

  • Rep. Anthony Brindisi:

    I understand.

  • Woman:

    And I get your position. You won here by a very small margin. It's a Republican area, a Republican state.

  • Rep. Anthony Brindisi:

    Look, politics — I want to make this very clear to everybody: Politics is not calculating into my mind. If the voters send me packing next year, that's their business.

    I am very troubled by the allegations that I have read. We want to hear — I want to hear from the people who are in that whistle-blower report.

  • Woman:

    Then you support the inquiry?

  • Rep. Anthony Brindisi:

    The inquiry's happening, whether I support it or not.

  • Woman:

    I want to know that you support it.

  • Rep. Anthony Brindisi:

    It doesn't matter.

  • John Yang:

    Those whistle-blower allegations moved a majority of House Democrats toward impeachment, but not Brindisi.

  • Rep. Anthony Brindisi:

    Look, I didn't go to Washington to impeach the president, OK? I went to Washington to try and get things done for the people in this community.

  • John Yang:

    Most of the questions were about other topics.

  • Woman:

    Could you talk about a humane immigration policy for our country should look like?

  • Woman:

    Are you in favor of Medicare for all?

  • Woman:

    What is your plan to ensure the U.S. and this district reaches 100 percent clean and renewable energy?

  • John Yang:

    That's where Brindisi wants the focus to be as Congress returns from a two-week recess.

    What do you want your colleagues to understand the needs of this district as this impeachment inquiry goes on?

  • Rep. Anthony Brindisi:

    I think people have struggles here that are more front and center than some of the latest news that's coming out of Washington. And that's what I'm committed to working on.

  • John Yang:

    But the flash points of the evening were the questions about impeachment, like the one from Lauren Earl.

    Were you satisfied with his answer about the impeachment inquiry?

  • Lauren Earl:

    Right now, by not saying it, I feel like that gives Trump leverage. So just come out and say how you feel and trust that what you believe is how you are going to lead, because we will follow you if you tell us what you believe.

  • John Yang:

    Trump supporters, who were early to the meeting and loud, hope impeachment could be leveraged to win back Brindisi's House seat.

    Earlier this month, Claudia Tenney, the Trump-backed incumbent Brindisi defeated, said she's running again.

    James Zecca helped rally Trump backers in front of the school before going inside for Brindisi's meeting.

  • James Zecca:

    He's in a real pickle here, because, if he votes to impeach, he's going to lose all of the people that supported Trump. And if he doesn't vote to impeach, he's going to lose his radical left-wing socialists.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • John Yang:

    The tension didn't stop when the town hall ended.

  • Woman:

    I can't stand you. I hate you. So why should I vote for you?

  • Rep. Anthony Brindisi:

    Well, look, I…

  • Woman:

    Some of these people act like they think he somehow got in there illegitimately. He didn't.

  • Rep. Anthony Brindisi:

    Yes. No, I take that very seriously.

    We, as representatives in Washington, have to do everything we can to try and get the emotion out of this, to get the partisanship out of this.

  • John Yang:

    Can that calm and measured approach survive, sustain through this?

  • Rep. Anthony Brindisi:

    I'm an eternal optimist, and you have to be when you're in politics, I guess, in Washington.

  • John Yang:

    And facing an election year that's bound to be filled with emotion and partisanship.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang in New Hartford, New York.

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