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In One Pennsylvania Swing District, It's Not All Impeachment All The Time

Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., won her House seat by a razor-thin margin in 2018. Her support for an impeachment inquiry risks alienating voters in a closely divided swing district.
Jacqueline Larma

Rep. Susan Wild is a freshman Democrat. She represents a labor-heavy district in Pennsylvania, a state President Trump won by a razor-thin margin in 2016.

And now she's taking a political risk by declaring support for a House impeachment probe of Trump.

Still, she wants her constituents to know her time remains focused on committee work that has nothing to do with investigating the president.

"You can tell other people who think that all we're doing down there is, you know, living, breathing and foaming at the mouth for impeachment," Wild told a recent gathering of labor leaders at Teamsters Local 773 in Whitehall, Pa. "I get really testy on this when people say that, because I spend 90% of my committee time in education and labor."

That's music to the ears of some of Wild's constituents. Impeachment may be taking up most of the oxygen on Capitol Hill these days, but that's not necessarily the case in swing districts like Wild's.

By this summer, a majority of House Democrats had signed on in support for the inquiry or for outright impeachment of President Trump. But Democrats representing more moderate districts have proceeded cautiously with revelations of a whistleblower complaint against Trump.

Wild said she had to consider details related to the complaint, which suggests the president pressured the Ukrainian president to dig up dirt on the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, his potential 2020 opponent.

"I did take an oath to uphold the Constitution. My feeling about the impeachment inquiry arises from that," Wild told NPR from her downtown Stroudsburg, Pa. office in Monroe County. "I do feel that that is a very important undertaking. I think that it's something that we should never take lightly, that we have taken that oath."

Wild says she has to balance that support with the pocketbook issues that are critical to her constituents. It's a position that has resonated with many voters who came out to Wild's constituent events during the October congressional recess.

"I like that wait and see approach to make sure that all of your facts are together, so that you do have that solid case that really no one can dispute," said Anne Radakowitz, who attended the Teamsters' event and sits on the board of the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees. "One misstep and we are not going to hear the end of it."

Kevin Deely, a high school English teacher who heads up an area teachers' union, says he also applauds Wild's approach.

"We do need to get other business taken care of and I do appreciate the congresswoman's focus on that work because I think that is important," Deely said.

That theme carried through at Wild's other constituent events. In one day, Wild said she attended meetings with more than 100 constituents, and impeachment didn't come up.

"Not a single person asked me about impeachment at any of my events," Wild said.

However, not everyone in Wild's district is on board. David Potter, an engineer and father of four, says he won't support Wild if she votes for impeachment.

Potter voted for Trump and remains a supporter.

"If you're going to basically fight against the president when his goal is to make America great, then you should come up with a plan to make America great and not try to, you know, get in a fight with a president," said Potter, who attended an event on early childhood education at the Resurrected Life Community Church.

Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., speaks with constituents in her district during the October congressional recess. Wild says voters are more focused on pocketbook issues than the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
Cladia Grisales / NPR
Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., speaks with constituents in her district during the October congressional recess. Wild says voters are more focused on pocketbook issues than the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

Cynthia McInnis, who runs an Allentown, Pa. daycare center, says while she thinks there are grounds for a Trump impeachment, she doesn't care if it happens or not.

McInnis, who attended the early childhood event as well, says impeachment won't do anything for critical concerns facing her now, like how she's going to keep paying her staff.

"Whether he's impeached or not, it doesn't make that much of a difference on our level because we don't understand how funding for early childhood education comes from there to here to where we are," she said.

Wild says it's those types of comments that remind her she's on the right track with her constituents.

She's also in the midst of broadening her legislative focus from education and labor to also include mental health issues.

In May, Wild lost her longtime partner, lawyer Kerry Acker, to suicide. Within a month, she was on the House floor giving a compelling speech about grief and loss. She's now made it a marquee issue.

"I always say I feel like you follow the path where that life leads you on, and this is the path that I've been led on," Wild said.

And for Wild, that path currently doesn't include much on impeachment.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
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