U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin surrounded herself with books and historical documents at her family farm in Holly on Sunday, attempting to make up her mind on which way to vote on President Donald Trump’s impeachment. When she reached that decision, she felt a sense of peace, because she “didn’t have to pretend.”
At a loud and contentious town hall at Oakland University the next day, the Democrat announced her plan to vote to advance the articles of impeachment. She was met with cheers and a standing ovation from most members of the crowd, but the anti-impeachment Trump supporters from Slotkin’s district led a sustained campaign of heckling that did not cease.
But Slotkin refused to let them take charge, and spoke over their shouted interjections for almost the entire event.
Afterwards, the freshman Democrat moved to a quieter room to speak to members of the press.
In a one-on-one interview, Slotkin spoke with the Advance about how she came to the decision to pursue impeachment, how she plans to deal with the backlash from Trump supporters in her district, how she hopes history will remember this moment in time, and more.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
Michigan Advance: How difficult of a decision was this, and do you think it’s worth the political risk?
Slotkin: I definitely took my time and did a thorough review of all the documents, as I was trying to do as a CIA officer. But at the end of the day, when I was sitting there at my farm yesterday, with all the documents and all the historical documents around me and the books on House practice — I did actually feel quite calm and quite settled, because I felt very firmly that I could vote yes on these articles, and I could articulate the specific logic, and I didn’t have to pretend or mealy-mouth anything. So, it was difficult because it’s a big responsibility. But at the end, I felt very strongly about the decision.
In terms of whether it was worth it, I just don’t think leaders get to think of the world that way. Voting on impeachment is second only to voting on declaring war when it comes to being a U.S. congressperson. It is the highest responsibility.
So I don’t believe I have the luxury to vote on this based on political calculus. And indeed, if I wanted to just say, ‘OK, what’s the easiest way for me to win in 2020?’ I wouldn’t have come out in support of an impeachment inquiry, and I wouldn’t be voting yes on the two articles later this week. But there are just some things that have to be beyond politics, and I believe this decision is one of them.
Michigan Advance: How do you plan to frame impeachment to your constituents in order for them to understand the gravity of the situation?
Slotkin: Well, I tried to do that in my op-ed this morning. I thought it was very important for people to hear directly from me, not to hear from a talking head on MSNBC or Fox or CNN. And so I put down my thoughts there about what I think is the oath of office I took.
And I’ve taken an oath of office many times my entire adult life, I’ve been in [Pentagon and CIA] jobs where I took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. I did the same thing when I took the job and was sworn in as a member of Congress. And that dictates how I believe I need to vote, especially on something as serious as impeachment. So I tried to lay it out in my op-ed.
Michigan Advance: Do you feel like your Trump-supporting constituents are listening to you on other issues [besides impeachment]?
Slotkin: I hope so. And one of the things that was interesting to me was when I was talking about gun-related issues, or the USMCA [United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement], [or] when I was talking about the price of prescription drugs, I could see a whole row or two of Trump supporters who were who were listening and being respectful. They were nodding in agreement from time to time.
And, you know, that’s that’s what I’m going for. I know that no one in this district is going to agree with what I do 100% of the time. I don’t agree with my husband 100% of the time — right — no one in my life gets 100% of my agreement. What I hope is that those constituents who may disagree with my decision on impeachment know that I made the decision based on my personal integrity, and are willing to work together on the issues where we do agree.
Michigan Advance: How do you think you can gain back the trust of some Trump supporters in your district who are very opposed to this decision?
Slotkin: All I can do is put my head down and work on issues that affect people’s pocketbooks and their kids, defend people’s rights as Michiganders to live the way they want to live, and hope that my constituents see that and want to bring me back. So, I’m going to — I try and be the best person I can be, and the best representative I can be, and they’re going to have to make a decision at the ballot box in 2020.
Michigan Advance: Does your background in the CIA offer you a unique perspective on the potential dangers of [Trump] withholding military assistance [to Ukraine]?
Slotkin: For me, the withholding of military assistance was was not good, and certainly to withhold it from a country that’s fighting Russia is deeply problematic. But my concerns with this started before the simple conversation or discussion of military assistance. It was really this very basic idea that the president of the United States had used the power of his office to ask for an investigation for personal political gain.
That, instead of using the full weight of the United States to advance our own national security, which is what presidents do all the time, he used it for his own gain. And this is exactly, in my mind, what the Founding Fathers were worried about. They didn’t want a president acting like a king, and they didn’t want foreign intervention in our political process. They were very scared of those things because they just fought against those things.
So the military aid, I think, makes this even more problematic, but to be honest, for me this was a first principles issue.
Michigan Advance: Are you worried about the precedent that might be set if Trump is acquitted in the Senate after engaging in the behavior that he did?
Slotkin: We’ve had presidents who were acquitted in the Senate before. I just think it’s important that we do our duty in the House, to put down a marker and say very clearly, with the strongest tool we have, that it is not okay to invite foreigners to intervene and participate in our political process.
Michigan Advance: Do you think Democratic voters should use support for impeachment as a litmus test among candidates for office right now?
Slotkin: I don’t like litmus tests. I think that they are divisive and unnecessary, and I think that they hurt the Democratic Party, which should be the party of the ‘big tent’ where everyone is welcome. And what works in the Bronx may not work in central Michigan, and that’s okay. And I don’t think central Michigan should tell the Bronx what to do, and I don’t think the Bronx should tell central Michigan what to do.
And we should all be welcome here. Every Democrat that I know wants more health care for people at a more affordable price. They have empathy; they care about people, and those should be the standards — not how each person votes on every single issue.
Michigan Advance: Do you plan to make impeachment a key argument for your reelection?
Slotkin: I don’t. I’m sure I’m sure the media will want to make it a key issue. For me, the issues I hear the most about in the district are the ones I spend the lion’s share of my time on: The price of health care, the price of prescription drugs and clean water. And I’m going to keep working on legislation that is directed at those issues, because that’s what people pull me over in the Kroger and talk to me about.
I really, very rarely am walking through the Kroger and have someone talked to me about impeachment. They want to talk about how they can afford their son’s insulin, or how they can send their daughter to summer camp because they couldn’t afford the last, you know, the four inhalers that they require last summer. That’s what I want to work on.
Michigan Advance: How do you hope history will remember this moment in time, and what do you believe is your place in it?
Slotkin: I hope, whether it’s in a year or five years, or 20 years, or 50 years, that people will look back on it and [say], ‘Well, she didn’t maybe do the politically expedient thing, but she did the right thing.’