WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump welcomed South Jersey Congressman Jeff Van Drew to the Republican Party on Thursday afternoon at an event in the Oval Office, promising to support the freshman in his re-election bid in 2020.

“To me it’s a very exciting announcement,” Trump said of Van Drew’s switch, a day after Van Drew was one of only two Democrats to vote against both articles of impeachment against the president.

Later, Trump said, “I”m endorsing him.”

Van Drew told Trump he has his “undying support.”

“I’m a capitalist. Socialism has no place in the U.S. I believe in bipartisanship. … I believe in what you are doing with the economy.” Van Drew said.

Also in the meeting were Vice President Mike Pence; House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy; Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, who grew up outside Hammonton; and Van Drew staffers Allison Murphy, his chief of staff; Chris Chin, veterans advocate; John Murphy, a former Dennis Township mayor and longtime friend; and Ocean City Councilman Bob Barr.

Van Drew, wearing a bright red tie, said he could no longer stay in a Democratic Party that would threaten him with lack of support over one vote — on impeachment of the president, which he opposed.

“Jeff Van Drew should be commended for refusing to blindly follow Nancy Pelosi’s stampede of hate-filled Democrats over the edge of the political cliff,” said Tom Emmer, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, in a statement. “This is now a Republican seat, and we will fight tooth and nail to ensure it remains a Republican seat.”

Van Drew said the last straw for him was when a young county chairman told him to either vote for impeachment or lose all support of the party and face a strong primary race. He didn’t name him, but he was talking about Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Michael Suleiman.

“It hurt, and it kind of made me think a little bit,” he said.

After decades delivering victories to the Democrats in a Republican-dominated area, Van Drew said he no longer felt welcome.

Suleiman said he was flabbergasted.

“If he has so much vitriol against me he felt the need to mention me in the White House, then good for me,” Suleiman said. “If I’m the reason Jeff Van Drew got pushed out of the Democratic Party, I’ll wear it as a badge of honor.”

Van Drew also talked about some of the negativity he has experienced over the years from Democrats who don’t like some of his more conservative views. He cited the anger directed at him after he sponsored a measure in the New Jersey Legislature to allow “In God We Trust” to be posted in public and private buildings, and to encourage flag flying.

He said he came to his decision to switch parties over time, before his talks with the president, because the Democratic party had moved so far to the left.

“I was always a conservative Democrat to begin with. This is just a better fit,” Van Drew said.

Republican members have offered to lend staff after most of Van Drew’s Washington office resigned this week, he said. Republicans have also been personally welcoming and have even said they would hold fundraisers for him in their districts.

Staff in the local Mays Landing office hasn’t changed over impeachment, he said, adding they’re focused on constituent services.

“I don’t even know what party most of them are in,” chief of staff Murphy said.

Early in the day, Van Drew was on the House floor, voting on a resolution to move forward a bill to increase the amount of state and local taxes that can be deducted from gross income from $10,000 to $20,000. He moved from the Democrat to Republican side, looking relaxed and talking to members.

He favors raising SALT limits, and that bill is mostly being pushed by Democrats.

“It’s a New Jersey thing, and a New York thing,” Van Drew said. “The bottom line is property taxes are really high here.”

Later in the day, he was due to vote on the bill itself, and on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a trade deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement — another bipartisan effort.

The fact that he is moving from the majority to the minority party shows how strongly he feels, he said.

“The majority always knows a little more (about what is going on in the House) than the minority,” Van Drew said.

Republicans are sometimes not notified about the full schedule of the House when plans change, and sometimes miss votes because of it, he said.

But he said the advantages of being in the majority couldn’t make up for the feeling the Democrats no longer valued him because of his stance on impeachment.

Since the news broke over the weekend, the Democrats stopped sending him information on the upcoming day in the House, he said. Now he gets Republican updates.

He can no longer be part of the Blue Dog Democrats, a group of moderate to conservative Democrats. But he has been invited to join a Republican group that is similarly moderate, called the Tuesday Club, a group of Republican doctors and dentists, and an early-morning prayer group.

Contact: 609-272-7219

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Twitter @MichelleBPost

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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