‘It’s a liability’: New York Republicans face pressure – but will they lose 2024?

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In Anthony D’Esposito’s New York congressional district, Democrats are licking their lips.

The Republican won an unexpected election to the House of Representatives in 2022, styling himself as a moderate in a historically Democratic district that Joe Biden had easily won by 14 points two years earlier.

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But last week D’Esposito, along with other self-styled moderates, gave his tacit approval to the impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden, an inquiry championed by the far-right members of the Republican party.

The inquiry, into Hunter Biden’s business affairs and unsubstantiated accusations of corruption by the president, has become a symbol of the vengeful, extremist politics of far-right Republican figures like Marjorie Taylor-Greene. Sensing a chance, Democrats in D’Esposito’s Long Island district, just east of New York City, are now planning to tie him to his more rabid colleagues and win back the seat.

“We’re certainly going to make it an issue and it’s a liability for him here,” said Jay Jacobs, the chair of the local Democratic party in Nassau county, which makes up much of the fourth congressional district, which D’Esposito represents.

“Most informed, thinking people don’t believe that Joe Biden is some kind of criminal or has done anything that would warrant an impeachment inquiry, so when someone does this, and is in favor of it, they put themselves on the line with voters.

“We saw this after Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial: the Republicans took a big hit. And we think the same will happen this time. People send their representatives to Washington to do a job and to run the country in a responsible way, and this is clearly irresponsible. So [D’Esposito] will suffer for it.”

In the 2022 midterm elections 18 Republicans, including D’Esposito, won in congressional districts that had voted for Biden, as the Republican party secured a razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives.

George Santos at the US Capitol in Washington DC on 19 September.

George Santos at the US Capitol in Washington DC on 19 September. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

In Long Island, which experienced a curious swing to the Republicans in 2022, D’Esposito isn’t the only newly elected Republican at risk. Before those midterm elections three of the island’s four congressional districts were represented by Democrats. In the 2020 presidential election, Biden won convincingly in the same three districts.

But in 2022, even as Democrats outperformed expectations around the country, this south-eastern part of New York state plumped for Republican candidates – including George Santos, who has since admitted inventing parts of his résumé and has been charged with fraud, money laundering and theft of public funds.

Democrats attributed the swing, in part, to a popular Republican candidate for that year’s governor’s race, and the test in next year’s elections will be whether Republicans can hold on to those seats.

Even before the launch of the impeachment inquiry, the 18 Republicans in Biden-won districts were already under pressure from an “Unrepresentatives” campaign launched by the progressive movement Indivisible. That campaign has seen Indivisible highlight how the supposed moderates have voted in line with the hard-right wing of the party.

The new inquiry – which comes after eight months of Republican investigation into the president has failed to yield any evidence of wrongdoing – could add to that backlash. But Michael Dawidziak, a Republican political consultant based in Long Island, said Democrats might be putting too much hope in an impeachment-related backlash.

“[Voters] are not going to be that upset about a Biden impeachment as opposed to, you know, crime and economy and the things that affect your quality of life,” Dawidziak said.

The self-proclaimed more moderate members of the Republican party have largely sought to justify their support for the impeachment inquiry by characterizing it as an example of Congress applying checks and balances on the president.

Mike Garcia, a California representative who like D’Esposito and Santos won in 2022 a previously Biden-supporting district, told the Hill he wanted to “seek clarity”, while Congressman Marc Molinaro, a New Yorker, said: “We want to be sure that we’re getting answers.”

D’Esposito has offered similarly considered support.

“I’ve spent my career as an NYPD detective and know the value of seeking the truth through finding the facts, and I am eager to find out exactly what the truth is behind the allegations surrounding President Biden and his family,” he said in a statement.

But in Long Island, some Democratic voters fear that the Republican tightrope-walking might be successful. Casey Shields, who lives in Lynbrook, said that despite Biden carrying the district convincingly in 2020, it leans to the right.

His district is begging to be a red state

Casey Shields

“Nassau county is a secret Republican stronghold, hence [D’Esposito’s] and Santos’ magic rise to power,” Shields, an accountant, said. “I can’t imagine many people who voted him in will be turned off by his desire to impeach Biden. His district is begging to be a red state.”

Mary Russell, 67, said people who decide to vote for any Republican know what they are getting from the Donald Trump-dominated party.

“I am not sure there is such a thing as a ‘moderate’ Republican,” Russell, who voted for D’Esposito’s opponent in 2022, said.

“[D’Esposito] supporting the retaliatory impeachment inquiry to appease the hard-right members, confirms his inability or desire to stand for the majority of Long Islanders who know the inquiry to be a waste of time and money.”

Despite that, Russell said she doubted that D’Esposito’s support for the impeachment inquiry would be a defining issue.

“I wish it would have an impact, but I fear it will not, based on where the district leans. It’d also depend on who his challenger is.”

In Garden City, in the north of D’Esposito’s district, Republican voters were adamant that the impeachment inquiry was justified.

“Biden should be in prison. They should put him in jail, and his son, the whole administration,” said Anthony DeAngelis, an equities trader.

Maria Bicocchio, 71, who voted for Trump and D’Esposito in 2020, was slightly more nuanced on whether the impeachment inquiry could prove to be a problem among people who voted for Biden in 2022 before switching to the Republican party in 2022.

“It could be but then again, maybe they have woken up and decided they’re not so sure about Biden,” she said.

There are indications that impeachment might not be a huge vote loser for Republicans. A Morning Consult poll released on Tuesday found that 48% of voters support the impeachment inquiry, with 42% opposed. Among independent voters, 47% said they were in favor of the inquiry, with 36% opposed. (A further 17% had no opinion.)

Still, Democrats will hope that the inquiry can at least tarnish enough Republicans to help them win back the House next year.

“Campaigns are all about informing the voters about how their incumbent elected representatives have been performing,” said Jacobs, the Nassau county Democrats chair.

“D’Esposito wants to come across as a moderate because he knows this is a moderate district. But when it comes right down to it on issues like this, he’s a Maga Republican, he’s exactly what Donald Trump wants to have in the Congress. I think voters need to know that.”

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