Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who is also a former Republican member of Congress, said Wednesday he did not vote for President Donald Trump in 2016 and will "absolutely not" vote for him in 2020.
He also said he backs former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, for president. But because there appears to be no chance that the Republican U.S. Senate will expel Trump, LaHood called the House impeachment of Trump a waste of time.
"I have met every president since (Richard) Nixon," LaHood told The State Journal-Register. "Although I haven't agreed with every one of them on every issue, each one of those people, except for Nixon, distinguished themselves in a way that made our country proud. ... And this president has not done that."
"The way he treats people," LaHood continued. "The way that he disparages people. The way that he represents our country. He's not my kind of politician."
LaHood was chief of staff to U.S. House Minority Leader Robert Michel of Peoria from 1982 to 1994 and was in the House from 1995 to 2009. Democratic President Barack Obama reached across the aisle to name LaHood transportation secretary -- a post he held from 2009 to 2013. He is now senior policy advisor for DLA Piper, a global business law firm.
In September, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker named LaHood the chair of the Abraham Lincoln President Library and Museum Board of Directors. Lahood was interviewed at the library, where he led a meeting of the board on Wednesday.
LaHood is also father of U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, whose 18th Congressional District includes part of Springfield. The younger LaHood is an honorary co-chair of the Trump campaign in Illinois. Rep. LaHood's office declined comment.
"I love my son," the elder LaHood said. "I think he's done a fantastic job ... probably a better job than I did. And I'm very proud of him. ... I'm going to vote in the Republican primary so I can vote for him."
He said he would probably leave the presidential race blank on that ballot. In the March 17 GOP Illinois primary, Trump is opposed by two little-known candidates, John Schiess of Wisconsin and Rocky De La Fuente of California.
"Trump has pretty much turned the Republican party into the Trump party," LaHood said. He said it would never go back to being the party of Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
"But when Trump is gone, we'll go back to some semblance of the Republican party that I grew up in, that Bob Michel grew up in, that Ronald Reagan really helped continue, as well as the Bushes."
LaHood had said in May 2016, after delivering the keynote address at the governor's prayer breakfast in Springfield, that he would not vote for Trump that year. He said his decision was due to the things Trump had said about groups including women and Muslims, and also the way he "maligned and criticized other Republicans."
In 2016, LaHood said Wednesday, he voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton for president. She had been secretary of state in the Obama administration.
In the 2020 race, LaHood said he donated to Biden when the former vice president announced his candidacy, and still supports him for president.
"I worked with Joe Biden when I was secretary of transportation," LaHood said, including on the stimulus plan designed to bring the country out of an economic slump.
"We traveled the country," LaHood said. "We created the kind of jobs that President Obama wanted from our part of the stimulus. And I think he's the kind of person that could lead our country in a totally different direction and bring America together again."
LaHood said he's not pledging to vote for any Democrat who runs against Trump in the fall.
"I don't know if I can bring myself to vote for somebody like Bernie (Sanders) or Elizabeth (Warren)," he said. "They're too far left for me."
LaHood presided over the House in December 1998 when then-President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was impeached. It was the last time such action was taken until Trump was impeached in December.
Clinton was not convicted in the Senate, and stayed in office. The Senate is expected to start its trial of Trump next week.
LaHood was questioned about impeachment by U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, when LaHood appeared before a congressional committee discussing ways to promote civility and collaboration. LaHood said he would avoid impeachment "like the plague" because it would consume Congress and divert attention from important work. Davis opposed impeachment, and is also a Trump campaign co-chair.
LaHood had tried to promote civility in Congress by helping set up bipartisan retreats to help members get to know each other better.
LaHood said his response to the impeachment question, which still holds, is that Trump is "not going to be convicted in the Senate, and we're wasting all of this time. What about immigration reform? What about fixing our broken fiscal system?"
"We have a huge fiscal mess," he added, recalling that when he ran for Congress in 1994, he wouldn't sign a "contract with America" promoted by GOP leader Newt Gingrich because "I said we ought to balance the budget before we do tax cuts. And nobody's even talking about that. Where are the Republicans on that issue? Where are the Democrats?
"So I say it's a waste of time," he said of impeachment. "And it's caused great turmoil, not only in the House but in the country."
LaHood said he thinks it is significant that Democrat Pritzker picked him -- a lifelong Republican 0151 to chair the Lincoln presidential library and museum's board. He also noted that when he was in Congress, he represented Lincoln's home and Oak Ridge Cemetery where Lincoln is buried, regularly came to Lincoln events in Springfield, and saw the need for a library and museum to honor the 16th president.
At the library and museum, which is seeking a permanent executive director, he said, "I want to get back to the essence of Lincoln, which was bringing our country together and solving our most serious problems, and I think we'll do that."