Underwood says she'll back impeachment. She's taking a political risk doing so.
Democrat Lauren Underwood announced Tuesday that she will vote to impeach President Donald Trump.
That decision likely will have the single biggest impact of any issue on her bid for a second term representing the 14th Congressional District.
Underwood did not immediately respond to interview requests Tuesday. She explained her support for impeachment in a written statement and on the House floor.
"Our country's founders created impeachment so that no president could place themselves above the law, a crucial Constitutional check-of-power that ensures our country's security and values are protected against corruption and foreign influence in our elections. As I've weighed this solemn decision I've listened to our community, examined important testimony and evidence, and studied the drafted articles," Underwood said in her statement.
"The President has demonstrated a pattern of corrupt behavior, and abused his power for his own personal political gain when he pressured foreign leaders to conduct investigations against political rivals, jeopardizing our country's national security and the integrity of our elections. The testimony and evidence put forth led me to a clear conclusion. In order to uphold my sworn oath, I must vote to protect the Constitution and will vote in support of the articles of impeachment."
Her vote to impeach Trump could energize her campaign donors as well as the ground team that saw her unseat a multi-term incumbent in a traditionally Republican district in 2018. But it also might serve as the catalyst to fuel enough local conservative votes to put the district back in the GOP column in 2020.
Brandon Harris, who lives in the far southern edge of the 14th Congressional District, is chairman of Freedom Movement USA, a conservative PAC. Before her announcement, he said Underwood looked solidly positioned to retain her seat -- unless she votes to impeach Trump.
"We don't plan on the 14th being a major focus for us," Harris said. "We really don't want to fight for a seat that we don't think is winnable. But this vote is one of the biggest things that's going to happen in your history and my history. You're going to see a vote on the free will of millions of Americans. If she doesn't look at the facts and how this does seem to be a witch hunt, we will stand up and come for her seat this election."
Michael Alfaro agreed that Underwood's support for impeachment will be the final straw for many Republicans considering casting a vote for her.
Alfaro, who lives in Plainfield, voted for Barack Obama twice. Since then he's become one of the biggest fundraisers for Trump in the country. He said the impeachment vote is the biggest chance for Underwood to show she has some bipartisan credentials and that she is willing and able to represent the conservative portion of her purple district.
"Is there evidence that clearly shows President Donald Trump did this? The answer is no," Alfaro said. "There is no smoking gun. So it's time to move the country forward and focus on issues that will have a direct impact on the lives of the people in this district."
The numbers show Underwood has good reason to pay attention to the impact her decision will have on the voting plans of her more conservative constituents.
Underwood defeated Republican Randy Hultgren by just under 15,000 votes in 2018. That year, there was a major contested governor's race on the ballot in Illinois, with every expectation that Democrat J.B. Pritzker would win.
In 2016, the 14th Congressional District voted for Trump by 4 percentage points. There were nearly 41,000 more votes cast in that election by 14th Congressional District residents. About half of those additional votes came in McHenry and Kendall counties, two of the areas where Underwood received the slimmest margins of support just two years later.
Underwood's pro-impeachment decision is a gamble that the support of her Democratic base will now increase enough to more than offset any revitalization of GOP opposition.
Carey Shimon of St. Charles said she would have stuck with Underwood no matter what she decided on impeachment. But she also believes a "yes" vote to impeach is the only right move to make.
"It's been clear from the beginning that this is a president who is ignorant of constitutional law and the fundamental system of checks and balances," Shimon said. "He's believed, wrongly, that he can do whatever he wants and, because he's the president, that makes it right. He abused his power. He not only obstructed Congress, he obstructed justice. (Underwood) has a duty under the Constitution regardless of politics. He will not be removed from office. But it's one of those moments that matters, regardless of the outcome."
As a Geneva city councilman, Mike Bruno knows a thing or two about the ramifications of controversial votes. He just cast one in favor of allowing local recreational marijuana sales. As a 14th Congressional District constituent, he agreed there was only one correct vote to make on impeachment regardless of what happens in the efforts to reelect Underwood or Trump.
"Everyone in any representative office needs to recognize that they have to pick a hill that they are willing to die on," Bruno said. "Do you play political games or just do the right thing? I think impeachment is the morally right thing to do. I'd prefer the electorate right this wrong and vote him out, but if someone is shoplifting, to use that example, we can't just continue to let them shoplift until they get out of office. This is the duty of Congress. The evidence is there. Fulfill your duty."