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Congress Left for Recess and Pro-Impeachment Groups Smell Blood

Call it the revenge of the #resistance.

by David Uberti
Sep 28 2019, 2:27pm

Nebraska Republican Rep. Adrian Smith began Congress’ recess Friday with plans to return to his home district and hold an infrastructure seminar next week to talk economic development and rural broadband.

Pro-impeachment activists hope to crash the party and disrupt the agenda with some mixture of uncomfortable questioning, anti-Trump signage, booing, heckling, or outright protesting.

They’re also eyeing more than 75 other events slated for the two-week down period, like Michigan Republican Rep. Tim Walberg’s next coffee meeting with constituents and Wisconsin Republican Rep. Glenn Grothman’s coming town hall.

Welcome to the revenge of the #Resistance, where grassroots activists hope to give lawmakers an earful as they venture outside the friendly confines of the Beltway.

After two or more years lobbying for impeachment, outside progressive groups like Stand Up America finally smell blood. They’re now turning a digital infrastructure comprising more than 10 million collective email signups and social media followers, supported by a small army of volunteer activists, toward ensuring that the process doesn’t come up short.

READ: The GOP is now saying the whistleblower is 'not a whistleblower'

“This is not the time for Congress to take a two week break when our democracy is facing an existential threat in the White House,” said Sean Eldridge, president of the anti-Trump advocacy group Stand Up America. “They can’t delay any further.”

Those efforts are set to ramp up as lawmakers leave Washington for recess on Friday. Stand Up America banded together with other liberal groups, including Indivisible and MoveOn, to launch ImpeachNow.org, a clearinghouse for lawmakers public events’ in their home districts over the next two weeks.

Eldridge said his group, which has already pumped out more than 600 pro-impeachment Facebook ads since Monday, hopes to drive activists to events through targeted email alerts and peer-to-peer text messaging.

“We’re seeing even more energy in the past month than we did previously,” Eldridge said. “A lot of progressives are very used to getting emails and texts [asking] for $5. We’re asking for their voice.”

READ: What the New York Times outing a whistleblower tells about Trump's smear campaign

Liberal activists similarly swamped lawmakers’ recess events in August, just after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony, which helped push the number of Democrats supporting impeachment from about 100 to 140. Now, 220 House lawmakers back the inquiry.

Progressive groups’ first goal for the coming recess is to convince remaining holdouts like Rep. Ben McAdams to get on board. The Utah Democrat said in a statement Thursday that lawmakers should “gather all the facts and carefully consider them before deciding how to proceed.” By directing activists to a McAdams town hall focused on financial technology in October, ImpeachNow.org aims to help him carefully consider those facts a bit more quickly.

McAdams is a member of the centrist Blue Dog Caucus who won by a razor-thin margin in a red state. But progressive groups and lawmakers are hopeful that the ongoing PR campaign, coupled with continued media coverage of the impeachment inquiry, will convince such remaining members.

“There are folks who, just by virtue of winning seats in places that Donald Trump won, needed to engage with their new constituents,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-NY, who supported impeachment in 2017. “We're moving. And that's important.”

Need to Impeach, a Tom Steyer-backed group that has led calls for Trump’s ouster for more than two years, is also tweaking its strategy. The organization cut back on its multimillion-dollar digital advertising campaigns after Steyer jumped into the Democratic primary in July. But Executive Director Nathaly Arriola told VICE News it’s going to target new digital spending — and potentially even TV ads — at Republican-leaning areas.

“What we’re implementing now is that we’re going to focus on the Senate,” she said. “Our strategy has always led with big media and digital advertising. But the formula is simple: You make sure those members understand what Americans in their districts want.”

New polling out this week suggests that public support for impeachment is gradually growing, including among independents. But a slight majority of voters still aren’t convinced, and the pro-Trump media machine’s influence campaign has just begun.

James Slezak, CEO of Swayable, a firm that measures the impact of political ads, said that progressive messaging to convince those remaining voters has often gotten lost in the complexity of Trump’s scandals.

“The root issue is not some process issue but: Is the president of the United States corrupt?” said Slezak, whose company helped Need to Impeach hone its ad campaigns. “It’s something that large sections of the public are really shielded from. People who get Fox News are insulated from the basic facts.”

As for Rep. Smith, a spokesman says the congressman has no plans to let pro-impeachment disruptions stop his town hall on infrastructure. “In the past year Nebraska has been hit with several natural disasters which have greatly impacted our infrastructure," spokesman Aron Wehr wrote in an email. "He also regularly holds open mobile offices around the Third District which provide Nebraskans to discuss with him any issue which concerns them.”

Cover: A protester holds up a sign during a demonstration calling for members of Congress to begin the impeachment process at the U.S. Capitol in Washington U.S., September 26, 2019. (Photo by Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)