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Democratic congressman faces mass staff exodus over decision to switch parties

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Washington — At least five members of Democratic Congressman Jeff Van Drew's office have resigned following his apparent decision to switch parties and become a Republican. The staffers wrote in a letter that they could "no longer in good conscience" remain in their roles.

House Republicans expect Van Drew to change his party affiliation after the House votes on impeachment this week, several sources told CBS News. Although the New Jersey representative has made up his mind on flipping, the sources said, President Trump wants Van Drew to vote against impeachment as a Democrat before he makes the switch. 

Van Drew, a moderate who flipped a Republican district in 2018, was one of two Democrats to vote against formalizing the impeachment inquiry in October.

"Congressman Van Drew's decision to join the ranks of the Republican Party led by Donald Trump does not align with the values we brought to this job when we joined his office," the former employees wrote to chief of staff Allison Murphy. In a release, one of the ex-staffers said Van Drew informed them of his plans to become a Republican on Saturday.

"Trump Republicans have sided with special interests over the needs of working people," the letter continued. "Worse, they continue to aid and abet Trump as he shreds the Constitution and tears the country apart. They have refused to grapple with how the President of the United States has jeopardized our national security for his own political advantage."

Here's their letter:

The five staffers — Mackenzie Lucas, Javier Gamboa, Edward Kaczmarski, Caroline Wood and Justin O'Leary — were quickly offered new jobs with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the party's House fundraising arm. 

"It's right before the holidays and these staffers just quit their jobs to stand up for their Democratic values," DCCC chair Cheri Bustos tweeted Sunday night. "We'll bring them and others who leave on with the @dccc until they land new jobs that align with their values." 

Bustos, who represents Illinois in Congress, also asked for donations for a Democratic challenger for Van Drew in 2020. At least one Democrat — Brigid Callahan Harrison — announced plans to run against him in November's election.

Van Drew's defection, which was first reported by The Washington Post, could be a boon to the president as the House plans to vote on articles of impeachment in this week. 

The president, in response to a tweet reporting that Van Drew was considering the switch, wrote that it would be "big" and he had "always heard Jeff is very smart!"

Several House Democrats slammed Van Drew for his decision. 

"I've heard of rats jumping off a sinking ship, but very few of them jump onto a sinking ship," Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee told CNN on Sunday. "Instead of having a congressman who's in the majority, and he gets something done for his district, they're going to have a congressman in the minority who can't get anything done. The lowest thing that there is in the Congress is somebody in the minority side who was a traitor to the majority."  

Republicans who plan to run for Van Drew's seat also trashed him. Brian Fitzherbert told there's "no place for desperate Jeff Van Drew in South Jersey's Republican Party." And there's been no indication so far that Van Drew's move will clear the GOP primary field. There are three other candidates running in the Republican primary.

New Jersey's 2nd District, which Van Drew represents, supported Mr. Trump by four percentage points in 2016. Van Drew is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus for moderate Democrats, and has been highly critical of the impeachment process.

As recently as last Tuesday, Van Drew told reporters that he was not planning on switching parties, saying that he was "still a Democrat, right here."

Van Drew defeated Republican Congressman Frank LoBiondo by eight points in 2018.

New Jersey's Working Families Party issued a statement Saturday alleging Van Drew is a "Republican disguised as a Democrat." The statement blasted Van Drew's 100% rating from the NRA, his vote against marriage equality and his championing of a tax cut for yacht owners. 

Rebecca Kaplan, Major Garrett and Stefan Becket contributed to this report.

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