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Peterson defends impeachment inquiry vote; remains undecided about running again

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Rep. Collin Peterson
Minnesota 7th Congressional District Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL, leads a town hall meeting with farmers in Moorhead, Minn., on Friday.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News

Rep. Collin Peterson has been getting a lot of attention since he cast one of just two Democratic votes against the House impeachment inquiry last week.

Minnesota’s 7th District congressman — who represents nearly all of the western part of the state — seemed amused Friday by all the interest in his impeachment vote: He said it’s consistent with his criticism of the impeachment process from the beginning.

"What I've said all along is that you can't do this with one party,” he said after a meeting with farmers in Moorhead, Minn. “It's not smart and it's not going to work. I think if this is handled incorrectly, it will reelect Trump. That's what I think."

Peterson said his vote against the impeachment inquiry was a vote against a process he’s skeptical of. And he said he also dislikes the person leading that process, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.

Peterson said he was upset with the way Schiff handled another inquiry last year — the investigation into alleged Russian interference with the 2016 election. He objected to the way Schiff spoke publicly about the investigation while it was still in progress.

"And he called me up before the [2018] election,” Peterson said. “He says, ‘What do you need? Can we send some money to help you?’ I said, ‘No. You just need to shut up.’ He didn't like that."

Peterson told reporters he hasn't gotten any pushback from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over his ‘no’ vote on the impeachment inquiry.

And he said he’s still undecided as to whether President Trump should be impeached. The House inquiry centers around whether the president used his power for political gain in Ukraine.

"I haven't made a decision if this is a high crime or misdemeanor or not,” he said, referring to two of the impeachable offenses laid out in the U.S. Constitution. “It's stupid, that much I know."

But Peterson is certain of one thing: Many voters in his very red 7th District are happy with the way he cast his impeachment inquiry vote.

"Just about everybody that talks to me about this calls it BS,” he said. “They say, 'I'm glad you voted against this BS.’ So, that's where they're at right now."

Peterson knows he will need those Republican and right-leaning voters if he wants to win a 16th term in office next year. But he said he still hasn’t decided if he will run again.

Several Republican candidates — including former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach — have said they will challenge Peterson for his seat in 2020. But he said he sees no reason to start campaigning early because he said he knows the national Republican Party is eager to “beat him up” on the campaign trail.

So, Peterson said he plans to wait, as he always does, until January or February to announce whether he will run again. But this year, that question is made complicated by timing. The 75-year-old Peterson has built a career around writing federal farm bills. And he said his decision about whether to run again will be based on looking ahead to the next farm bill — five years from now.

"I can win, I'm not worried about that,” he said. “I'm almost worried I will win. Because the issue is: Do I want to stay around to do another farm bill? Because basically I've got to stay three more terms if I want to do that. So, I've got to make that decision — Do I want to make that commitment?"

And while that calculation sounds as though it’s coming from someone who’s not sure about whether or not to make that commitment, Peterson added a caveat.

“I'll also say this. I went to 42 parades last summer,” he said. “And if you're going to go to 42 parades, you haven't given up, right?"

A 7th District Democratic party official said the DFL remains firmly behind Peterson and is encouraging him to run again.