RHINEBECK, N.Y. — Even before Peter Plavchan Sr. asked about “the exact crimes” President Trump had committed to prompt his congressman to reverse course and embrace an impeachment inquiry, Representative Antonio Delgado was ready with a detailed answer.
“We are literally about to embark on something that has not happened all that often in our country’s history,” Mr. Delgado, Democrat of New York, told Mr. Plavchan and other constituents last week in his opening remarks at a town hall-style meeting in his district. Pressed further, his voice began growing hoarse as he explained, at length, the allegations about Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine.
“I’m endeavoring, in this space, to the best of my ability, to do whatever I can to not just fan the flame, but to figure out how to bring us through this process in a way that can very least help us emerge better for it,” Mr. Delgado said.
It is a difficult balance to strike, with Washington in a partisan frenzy over an impeachment inquiry that expands by the day as new revelations about Mr. Trump’s conduct pour out, but much of the nation is still divided over — or simply uninterested in — a process that could result in the removal of the president.
Here in this politically competitive district in the Hudson Valley, which Mr. Delgado flipped last year to Democrat from Republican as part of his party’s sweep to power in the House of Representatives, voters have yet to be consumed with the impeachment fever gripping the capital, and some are downright sick of the topic already.
“Antonio, I can’t quite say you represent me,” declared Mr. Plavchan, who wore a red “Make America Great Again” hat and an American flag earring, from the front row of Mr. Delgado’s town hall-style meeting.
More than 100 miles south in Staten Island, Representative Max Rose, another Democrat representing a conservative-leaning district, used a gathering last week with his constituents at a Jewish community center to declare his support for the impeachment inquiry. He was greeted with a hearty round of applause as he surrendered his status as one of his party’s last holdouts.
Across the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in Queens the following evening, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — the progressive star who was one of her party’s first and most zealous champions of impeaching Mr. Trump — elicited chuckles last week when she informed her constituents gathered in a public library that, with a formal inquiry finally underway, “I’m over it.”
The conversations that unfolded in these Democratic town hall-style meetings, with a diverse group of three freshman lawmakers in three distinct enclaves of New York, reflected the broader dialogue happening across the country. Lawmakers, who are home in their districts for a two-week congressional recess, are confronting the delicate job of explaining their stances on the impeachment process, while still addressing voters’ more immediate concerns about issues like health care, climate change and infrastructure.
From Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s liberal urban stronghold to Mr. Delgado’s rural district, many voters appeared to be more interested in talking about regional issues than about high crimes and misdemeanors. And the lawmakers worked to make it clear that they, too, had more on their minds than the potential removal of Mr. Trump.
“Impeachment of this president is the short-term action that we need to take to preserve our democracy,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said, preparing to show her audience a PowerPoint presentation on her latest policy initiative. “But if we are really going to thrive as a country, we need to make long-term investments and keep our eyes on the prize of social, economic and racial justice in America.”
When a New Jersey woman interrupted the event to question Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s reasoning on impeachment, the freshman lawmaker calmly observed that “you and I clearly have different takeaways,” and encouraged attendees to read the documents released by the White House and draw their own conclusions.
But pressed on her public disagreements with other Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez assured those present that, “in this moment, there is nothing that is going to shake the unity of the Democratic Party in impeaching the president of the United States.”
Party leaders had rebuffed calls to postpone congressional recess, arguing that even amid an avalanche of support for the inquiry, it was important for lawmakers to return home and explain their positions. The House Republican campaign arm heralded each event in moderate or conservative-leaning districts with an “impeachment advisory,” a warning sign for Democrats who were already well aware of the risk of an impeachment backlash from their constituents.
After Mr. Rose’s announcement on Wednesday, a spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee deemed his backing for an impeachment investigation “political suicide.”
Voters at each lawmaker’s event last week professed some knowledge of the impeachment obsession that has gripped Washington in recent days, and particularly at Mr. Rose’s town hall-style meeting, there was widespread curiosity about what had prompted a turnabout in favor of opening the inquiry. But the three lawmakers each faced more questions about their policy platforms and how they were going to maneuver legislation through a gridlocked Congress.
Carol A. Oliva, a retired elementary schoolteacher who had been keeping track of which lawmakers had endorsed an impeachment inquiry, said it was no mystery to her why her congressman, Mr. Rose, had stayed silent for so long.
“I kind of understand why — politically, it may not be good for them,” she said before his public event last week. But when Mr. Rose stood onstage minutes later to offer a fiery endorsement of the inquiry, Ms. Oliva’s tufts of sprayed pink hair could be visible among the dozen or so voters who leapt to their feet to show their appreciation.
For Mr. Rose, there was only one critical outburst during his impeachment announcement — from a New Jersey community organizer, who brought pamphlets from the pro-Trump LaRouche PAC — that was quickly hushed by the majority of the crowd. None of the questions selected and read aloud by the moderator addressed the impeachment inquiry, though Mr. Rose ended the event by noting that the reporters present were likely readying to ask about “the big ‘i’ word.”
“I’m glad he said it, and that we were able to hear it in person, rather than read it tomorrow in the newspaper — it’s just, you feel like you’re part of something,” said Sharon Weerth, 70, a retired school secretary, standing outside Mr. Rose’s town hall-style meeting.
But most of the questions, Ms. Weerth noted, were about “quality-of-life issues” about their “forgotten borough,” stymied by tolls and a lengthy commute into the city.
That was also the case for Mr. Delgado, who fielded only one impeachment question — from Mr. Plavchan — during his 70-minute town hall-style meeting in New York last week.
“There are so many issues besides the Trump issue — which is certainly a major issue — but there are so many other issues that I want to get his feelings about,” Roberta Brodie, who attended, said of Mr. Delgado, her congressman. “I want to see Congress — the House and the Senate — do their jobs.”