Updated: Dec. 17, 1:53 p.m.
By Carolyn Lange / West Central Tribune / Forum News Service
Barring new information that could convince him otherwise, Rep. Collin Peterson said Saturday he will vote against impeaching President Trump when the issue comes for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Peterson, a conservative Democrat who has not yet announced whether he'll seek a 16th term representing western Minnesota's 7th District, said he expects four or five other Democrats will do the same.
Peterson, who represents Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District, made the comments Saturday while attending the annual meeting of the First District Association, a dairy cooperative in Litchfield.
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After the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve two articles of impeachment on Friday, the full House is set to vote on the articles in the coming week. Peterson said he normally doesn’t make a decision until an issue — and all the information — is on the floor for a vote but said “unless they come up with something between now and Wednesday,” he will not support the articles of impeachment.
“Maybe something will change. I doubt it,” he said.
Peterson said Trump “has not committed a crime” — and that most people in the 7th District don’t think the U.S. should provide foreign aid, so they are not troubled at all if Trump withheld funds to Ukraine. Peterson also said the case against Trump only includes "second-hand" information about Trump's questionable phone call.
Peterson said the “biggest problem” he has with this impeachment process is that people decided in advance they were going to impeach Trump “and now they’ve spent a year trying to figure out how they can make a case for it. That’s backwards. I just don’t agree with this.”
Peterson said he expects the House will vote to impeach Trump and then it will go to the Senate where he predicts the president will be acquitted.
“This is dividing the country for no good reason because he’s not going to be thrown out of office,” he said. “Why are we doing this?”
Peterson said the issue should be settled at the ballot box.
“If people don’t like Trump, they can vote against him,” he said.
Peterson was one of just two Democrats to vote against a resolution in October that set a road map for impeachment proceedings.
In November, he told MPR that he was skeptical of the impeachment inquiry and that it shouldn't move ahead with the support of only one party. At the time he said Trump's actions in withholding aid to Ukraine were "stupid," but not necessarily a crime or an impeachable offense. And he said his constituents felt the same way.
DFL chair Ken Martin says Peterson has always been a rare member of Congress who puts his district before his party.
“While I disagree strongly with his decision on impeachment, and I'm sure there are other Democrats in his district and around the country who do so as well, the reality is the vast majority of people in the 7th District do not support impeachment. And once again Collin has proved that he's put his oath to his constituents ahead of his oath to his political party."
Going into the weekend, Peterson was one of two members of Minnesota's House delegation who had not indicated how they would vote on articles of impeachment. Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., announced Sunday that she will vote in favor of impeachment.
Peterson said Saturday that if he decides to run in 2020, he would feel obligated to run again in the following election because the House Agriculture Committee, which he currently chairs, would be in the middle of writing the next farm bill.
“It’s a two-term commitment,” he said. “I feel like if I run this next time that means I have to run one more time. So I’m looking at two elections and by that time I’ll be 80 years old. So I’ve got to decide, do I want to do that,” he said.
On the topic of agriculture, Peterson told the dairy producers at Saturday's meeting that for the first time in many years the economics in the dairy industry are improving.
Despite many dairy farmers retiring and leaving the business, Peterson said now is a perfect time for young farmers to get into the business.
He said the new federal farm bill’s safety net, the positive markets, available credit, cheap dairy cattle and the availability of empty dairy barns that could be leased or purchased make it a good time for young people to start dairy farming.
"I'm optimistic and I hope we can encourage people to get into the business," he said. "We've got a pretty decent safety net for smaller producers."
Peterson is not so optimistic about the rest of agriculture.
“I’m worried about it,” he said. “I’m hearing from bankers and Farm Credit, they’re worried about financing people next year.”
The devastating sugar beet crop this year dealt a tough blow to the ag economy, he said. “It’s not good.”
Peterson said he’s dubious of the $50 billion in ag sales touted by the Trump administration as a result of a new trade agreement with China.
“I’d be surprised,” he said. “I hope it’s true. Maybe it’ll turn these prices around, but I’m skeptical.”
Peterson said the $28 billion in facilitation payments that went to farmers to ease the burden of the trade war did some good — but would have been put to better use by improving the last farm bill. He also said those payments could end up causing a “backlash” against agriculture by the general public.
Hagedorn reiterates opposition to impeachment
Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Hagedorn, R-Minn., reiterated his opposition to the impeachment of President Trump during a town hall meeting with about 80 constituents Saturday in Mankato.
Hagedorn, in his first term representing southern Minnesota's 1st District, said that "from the beginning, the process on impeachment for the Democrats has been overtly political.
"It's been divisive and unwarranted. And I think it's an unwarranted attempt to remove a duly-elected president," he told MPR. "There's no impeachable offense. I say, 'You know it when you see it.' I haven't seen it. And frankly, I don't the people of southern Minnesota have seen. And I'm going to vote no."
Hagedorn drew a mix of support and criticism from the crowd Saturday for his stances on gun control and global warming.
He said would not support bans on assault rifles or other classes of weapons. And Hagedorn said the world has been heating and cooling since "God created it," and said he does not believe there is human-caused global warming.
"I believe there is climate change. I don't believe there's man-made climate change," Hagedorn said, to a mix of applause and groans from the audience. "If you believe that, there are ways to mitigate that other than making us less competitive around the world and degrading our standard of living."
Alan Holm of Sleepy Eye voted for Hagedorn and said he felt opponents of Hagedorn lacked civility at Saturday's meeting. Holm said Hagedorn is "on the right track" in supporting a new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada that appears headed for passage in Congress.
Cindy Olson of Madison Lake said she wished Hagedorn was more open to other viewpoints, and ongoing conversation about contentious issues.
"(He) tends to fall back on his, 'You know what you elected me for, and that's my position' — and doesn't seem willing to take in new information and educate himself, and then educate his constituents," she said.
MPR News reporters Martin Moylan and Brian Bakst contributed to this story.