In an exclusive interview with NJTV News, Rep. Jeff Van Drew claimed he defected to the Republican Party after Michael Suleiman, chairman of the Atlantic County Democratic Committee threatened retaliation if Van Drew didn’t vote for the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron sat down with Suleiman to get his side of the story. Here are excerpts from their interview.
Aron: You took exception to something he said. What do you take exception to?
Suleiman: Well, it’s rather ridiculous. I mean, the thing he misses out is when he met with me — and he wanted to meet with me — is, he basically said, “Hey, look,” like five times, “I have a 92% voting record with Nancy Pelosi and why are you raking me over the coals over one vote.” So, I find it hysterical that you go from a 92% voting record with Nancy Pelosi to undying support for Trump. It just shows what a political opportunist he is. And at the end of the day, you know, he said to me, “Why is this one vote important? It’s just one vote.” I said, “Jeff, it’s not just one vote, it’s the most important vote you’re going to have as a member of Congress.” And he could have faced the music from the party and voted “no,” or he could have decided not to run again, but instead you switch parties? It screams of political opportunism.
Aron: Did you threaten him with not getting the line if he stayed with being against impeachment?
Suleiman: Well look, I talked to him after the November election, which he voted against the inquiry, which was a really bad idea.
Aron: He voted against the impeachment inquiry?
Suleiman: Correct. And frankly, the purpose of that was to help his guys in LD1, in the 1st District. Obviously, he ended up losing so it didn’t help.
Aron: In the Assembly, in the Senate election?
Suleiman: Correct. I would argue it hurt. And then subsequent to that I had a phone call with him, and the goal was to get the guy to do the right thing — to vote for impeachment because it’s the right thing to do for our country. He decided not to, and frankly he wanted me and other leaders to support him regardless and I couldn’t do that. If the guy’s going to vote against impeachment, how can I sell him to the Democratic voters in the 2nd District? It’s ridiculous.
Aron: He says that he’s won 17 elections in this part of the state before. Why couldn’t you support him for the next election? Just because of this one vote?
Suleiman: We are at a precipice in our country. We have a corrupt, deranged president — and it pains me to say it — and this is a very important issue for the voters. They elected a Democratic Congress because they want to hold President Trump accountable. That’s why Jeff Van Drew was elected. So, for him to not do the right thing and vote against impeachment, I won’t tolerate it. I know a lot of my county committee members won’t tolerate it.
Aron: So, what did he say in that clip that’s wrong?
Suleiman: Well, I think he makes out like he’s the victim. The fact of the matter is here’s a guy who voted against the inquiry, went on Fox News bragging about voting against the inquiry and then says he’s going to vote against impeachment. He does a poll, an internal poll, showing he’s going to lose the Democratic primary, and he wanted me to stick with him and I said “no” and he switched parties. That’s the reason why he switched. He’s not the victim here. Jeff Van Drew wanted to keep that congressional pin on his fancy suit, and he switched parties. He’s not the victim…
Aron: So now what? Are you backing Brigid Harrison for the Democratic nomination for Congress?
Suleiman: I’m staying neutral at the moment. We’ve got a lot of great candidates coming forward, I’m excited to see a lot of women are coming forward to run. I think that’s important for our party. So, we’ll see what happens. I know in Atlantic we’re going to have the convention and other counties are going to have their processes to vet and pick candidates, and whoever is the nominee we have to unite behind him or her.
Aron: Six of eight country chairs have endorsed Brigid Harrison; are you one of those?
Suleiman: I am not, no. And I give Brigid a lot of credit for putting herself out there and starting the process by doing her Op-Ed against Jeff. But you know, look, we’ll take a wait-and-see approach. We have other candidates in Atlantic County looking at it, so we’ll see what happens.