Searching for Common Ground on Impeachment in NY’s 19th

Searching for Common Ground on Impeachment in NY’s 19th

Searching for Common Ground on Impeachment in NY’s 19th

This is one of a year-long series of dispatches about life and politics in rural America, written by former Nation managing editor Karen Rothmyer.


This week, I went to Representative Antonio Delgado’s first town hall meeting since his announcement two weeks ago that he now supports impeachment. The meeting was an hour or so south from where I live, in a more affluent part of the 19th district, but the audience of a hundred or so people looked pretty similar to what you’d find around here: almost all white and almost all middle-aged or older. (Quite a contrast to Delgado, who is African American and 42.)

Delgado told the generally sympathetic crowd that President Trump’s conversation with the President of Ukraine had offered “a new set of facts” that forced him to embrace impeachment after declining to do so for months. “Using the power of the presidency to pressure the head of another country into helping you in a political enterprise” is wrong, he said, and “has implications for our national security.”

But then, tacking back to the middle location that he has determinedly occupied since beginning his first congressional campaign in 2018, Delgado went on to say that he was “doing what I can not to fan the flames” and believes that all of us in the district “have shared values.” With that, he abruptly shifted the conversation to his work on behalf of family farmers, small business, and those needing better health care.

Only one question of the dozen or more that followed in the next 45 minutes was about impeachment, and even that was fairly tame and asked in a respectful tone. It came from a guy in a red shirt and a red MAGA hat who looked like a ringer for Michael Moore. “What was the crime?” he asked. “I don’t think we should be shining the spotlight on every phone call the president makes.”

Delgado’s response—that Trump’s actions represented an abuse of power—clearly didn’t satisfy the questioner. When we talked later, he said that in his opinion, Delgado didn’t understand the issues involved in the impeachment push. “You just can’t jump to conclusions,” he said.

More interesting was his scoffing response to my question as to whether impeachment is much of a topic of conversation among his neighbors. They have plenty of other things on their minds, he said, noting that he himself is 63 and has no health insurance and that his wife was recently seriously ill.

That issue again: health care. Just as was demonstrated at the Delgado meet-and-greet I went to a few weeks ago, health care is a big, big concern in a rural area like mine. And it’s not just about the pros and cons of “Medicare for All”: At both meetings, the first question was about the particular difficulties of seniors—whose ranks include one out of every five people in my town—who may have insurance but find it next to impossible to obtain such services as home health care aides. Just the physical act of getting to a doctor is daunting: Our nearest hospital is a good 45 minutes away, as are nearly all doctors, and those who can’t drive have to rely on neighbors or friends. There is a county-run, once-a-day weekday bus service for seniors, but the stop nearest to my village is more than four miles away.

The only other discussion of note at the town hall meeting was on the environment. Just as older voters may be more concerned about health care than about impeachment, the same could perhaps be said about younger voters and the environment. The most passionate questions of the night came from the handful of younger people, who pressed Delgado repeatedly to sign on to the Green New Deal.

Delgado’s response—that he wanted to work on specific environmental problems that he felt he could do something about, such as “de-incentivizing” the use of fossil fuels, rather than be part of a movement to “demagogue” the issues—struck me as similar to his former position on impeachment. In both cases, he put forth a rational argument for his stance while leaving room to shift if the facts, or the prevailing political winds, should demand it.

I don’t fault him for this. I doubt that Delgado would have stood a chance last year against his incumbent Republican opponent if he had come off as anything other than temperate. Moreover, I get the strong sense that his middle-of-the-road positions come out of his personal beliefs. Even the MAGA hat–wearing guy told me Delgado came off as decent.

Some people may argue that in times like the present, the embrace of bipartisanship and moderation represents a mistaken approach. For my part, as someone trying to work on local issues with people whose politics are very different from mine, I was actually quite moved at the town hall meeting by Delgado’s return several times to the notions of civility and finding common ground. “I hope to bring people together,” he said, and I got the feeling that everybody in the audience believed him.

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