What followed over the next six weeks was a stealthy effort by Republicans to woo Van Drew as Democrats’ intensified their drive to impeach Trump. The Republicans’ covert campaign will pay off this week for Trump and McCarthy when Van Drew formally switches parties in the coming days.
The GOP campaign to convince Van Drew to defect — rare move that has led to mixed results for congressional party switchers — stretched from the confines of the Capitol up to Van Drew’s home state.
Behind-the-scenes, former New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie spoke to Van Drew about switching parties, said GOP sources. Kellyanne Conway, a top White House adviser who hails from that district, also sought a meeting with the congressman on an unrelated issue, which Van Drew’s aides suspected was a pretense for her to lobby him to switch parties. The meeting never happened, but it was clear the White House was upping the pressure on Van Drew.
McCarthy kept on reaching out to Van Drew, as did other House Republicans. Van Drew and Trump exchanged several phone calls in the last couple of weeks, brokered in part by McCarthy. Trump and McCarthy argued that Van Drew would be better off in the GOP. And they also noted that Van Drew’s old New Jersey Senate seat, which overlaps with his congressional district, had been carried by Republicans in recent Garden State elections.
There was buzz in House leadership circles that he was going to switch, but the freshman lawmaker denied he was jumping parties.
“There’s rumors going around about everything. I had [heard] so many rumors over the years about all kinds of crazy things,” Van Drew told reporters last Wednesday. “No, it’s not [true]. I’m just doing what I’m doing, I’m still a Democrat.”
But during the last week, Van Drew and his chief of staff, Allison Murphy — without the knowledge of other aides — sought an in-person meeting with the president. It was quickly granted and Van Drew went to the Oval Office on Friday, unbeknownst to Democratic leaders.
Van Drew told Trump he’d make the switch. Van Drew then went back to Capitol Hill and informed his staff of the decision, but asked them to keep it quiet until the following week. There was little chance of that happening.
Pelosi’s office began reaching out to Van Drew aides that day to find out what was going on. Other top Democrats, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) also called Van Drew directly, although he wasn’t responding.
By Saturday, word leaked out about the Trump meeting, and press reports confirmed that Van Drew was switching parties. By Sunday night, despite efforts by Van Drew and Murphy to convince them to stay, most of the New Jersey lawmaker’s staff on Capitol Hill had quit.