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Trump Impeachment Plays Out In Closely Divided Illinois District


As the impeachment inquiry moves into a public phase this week, members of Congress are figuring out how to respond. Rodney Davis is a Republican congressman who represents a big chunk of rural Illinois. President Trump is very popular there, but it also has college towns full of Democratic voters. From member station NPR Illinois in Springfield, Brian Mackey has the story.

BRIAN MACKEY, BYLINE: Rodney Davis' journey to embracing Donald Trump is a lot like that of the Republican Party as a whole. After the "Access Hollywood" video came out right before the 2016 election, Davis withdrew his endorsement and said he wouldn't vote for Trump. Fast-forward three years and Davis is flying on Air Force One with the president.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're all so glad to have with us Representatives Rodney Davis...

MACKEY: At a speech in Chicago, Trump singled out Davis and two other Republican colleagues for praise.


TRUMP: These are warriors. Where are they? Where are they? The three of them, they're warriors for us - for all of us.

MACKEY: Like most Republicans, Davis has become a defender and ally of the president, including on impeachment.

RODNEY DAVIS: If a new precedent is set for this president that they're going to impeach him just out of partisan politics, then what you will get in the future in this country is anytime time the House of Representatives is controlled by another party than the president, you will see an impeachment just because the precedent is being set today.

MACKEY: He acknowledges his view of Trump has evolved since that "Access Hollywood" tape.

DAVIS: I've gotten to know him better, know him personally. I like the president personally. I look forward to working with him on a regular basis and his administration. And I look forward to campaigning for his reelection because I think the results are astounding.

MACKEY: Davis says he doesn't hear anything wrong in the readout of the president's call with Ukraine and echoes other Republicans in complaining that the process has been unfair to Trump.

Back in Springfield, in the middle of Davis' district, few voters seemed to be focused on impeachment. On an unseasonably cold and snowy Monday, contractor Anthony Bartmann (ph) is on his way to a job repairing doors at an apartment complex.

ANTHONY BARTMANN: Trump's the worst - or the less of two evils, I thought at the beginning. But now it's kind of like - I know he's eccentric, but he's definitely out there. He's an oddball.

MACKEY: But when it comes to Davis and the president...

BARTMANN: Honestly, I don't have an opinion on it. I don't have time to sit down and watch the news. What's going on? I'm so damn busy all day.

MACKEY: Turns out, this is a pretty popular view around here. But there are others, like Tremaine Williams (ph), who evaluate Davis separately from the president.

TREMAINE WILLIAMS: As far as what Rodney Davis is doing, I think he doing a pretty good job. You know what I'm saying? Rodney Davis has been around for a while in Congress, so I know he know what he's doing.

MACKEY: He basically says, in these polarized times, he understands why Davis is standing with Trump.

WILLIAMS: You know, you got Republicans versus Democrats. So you get - the Republicans got to stick together.

MACKEY: So the big question for Davis and other lawmakers is whether the impeachment hearings prompt them to, once again, reevaluate their relationship with the president.

For NPR News, I'm Brian Mackey in Springfield, Ill.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN'S "MY ONLY SWERVING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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