The Hitchhiker’s Guide to where we stand with impeachment
There is something of an impeachment furor in Washington.
But only among some Republicans.
There’s hubbub about Hunter Biden’s now nullified plea deal. Questions about whether Hunter Biden used his father for business access.
The House is out of session for nearly another month. But that didn’t stop Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., from introducing four articles of impeachment for the President himself.
One article of impeachment alleges the President sold access when he was Vice President. A second article suggests collusion between the president’s 2020 campaign and the Justice Department to hide alleged tax crimes by Hunter Biden and shield him from legal jeopardy. A third article purports fraud by Biden family businesses. The fourth article claims the Biden family finances helped fuel drug transactions and even prostitution.
‘It is long past due to start the impeachment process,’ said Steube on Fox.
President Biden conceded he helped block assistance to Ukraine when he served as Vice President unless Kyiv fired prosecutor Viktor Shokin. Shokin was investigating the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma. Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma.
Republicans suggest a quid pro quo.
‘We know the quo happened,’ said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., on Fox. ‘The only question for bribery is the quid. Did that oligarch pay Joe and Hunter $10 million? $5 million for Joe. $5 million for Hunter. If yes, that’s bribery. And Biden should be impeached. He should be removed from office. He should be prosecuted. And he should go to jail.’
There’s a push by the hard right for impeachment now. Some conservatives are growing tired of the behind-the-scenes ‘transcribed interviews’ and various letters written to Biden-related figures by House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. They want action. The measured pace of Congress doesn’t match the political realities of ultra-conservative, Republican districts which have nothing but disdain for President Biden.
‘What you’re seeing is the frustration of some of our supporters,’ conceded Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., on Fox. ‘But yes, at some point, as (House) Speaker (Kevin) McCarthy, R-Calif., said before we left for the district work period, an impeachment inquiry is called for here.’
However, that’s not exactly what the Speaker said.
On two different occasions on Fox last month, McCarthy teased an impeachment inquiry (remember that specific term) for both Attorney General Merrick Garland and President Biden. An impeachment ‘inquiry’ is miles from impeachment. But it’s important that the Speaker began to mention impeachment. After all, that’s what many anti-Biden voters and Freedom Caucus members needed to hear: the I-word. McCarthy’s verbiage amplified the potential for impeachment – because it’s coming from the Speaker. But it also served as a trial balloon for McCarthy to see if he could get his members in a place to push for impeachment. That would begin with an ‘impeachment inquiry.’ A formal impeachment inquiry requires an actual vote by the full House of Representatives. It gives the House more authority to call for witnesses and conduct depositions.
But the House can’t formally begin an impeachment inquiry without voting to do so. And it’s far from clear if Republicans – with a four seat majority and 18 House Republicans representing districts carried by the President – would ever have the votes to go down this path.
But there may have been a rhetorical sleight-of-mouth by McCarthy.
The mere fact that McCarthy mentioned ‘impeachment’ – inquiry or not – may have helped McCarthy get in front of a push for impeachment by House conservatives and not seem like he was lagging behind.
In late July, McCarthy made sure the Congressional press corps understood precisely what he said about impeachment – even if some conservative voters heard what they wanted, without the nuance.
‘I didn’t say I was doing an impeachment inquiry,’ said McCarthy. ‘I said if they didn’t provide us the information, that could rise to an impeachment inquiry.’
However, some Republicans are reluctant to rush into the impeachment maelstrom.
‘Inquiry’ or otherwise.
‘An inquiry and impeachment vote is too soon as I’ve stated,’ said Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., on Fox Business. ‘I don’t think we’re there just yet. But I do believe that we will be at some point later this year.’
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., also weighed in on Steube’s gambit during an appearance on Fox.
‘Is it premature? To me, it is,’ said Issa. ‘We’re a long way from the conspiracy that should and possibly need to be investigated. And we should do an investigation.’
However, Issa noted one potential hurdle.
‘The last thing I would want today is a vote on impeachment in the House that would die in the Senate,’ said Issa.
That echoes something similar that Comer said to Fox in late July.
It’s unclear if this commentary about the Senate failing to convict the president is a GOP escape hatch for Republicans who want to talk about impeachment, have revved up their base about impeachment, but know that actually executing impeachment – inquiry or otherwise, is challenging.
It’s all about the math.
Republicans sport a reed-thin, four-seat majority in the House. It’s a roll of the dice to determine if Republicans would ever have the votes to begin an impeachment inquiry – or actually impeach the President.
And it’s really about the math in the Senate.
The Constitution requires a two-thirds vote to convict and remove the president. That’s 67 votes. Republicans only have 49 votes right now. The Senate could never get there.
Thus, a potential escape hatch?
But the pressure is going to be on McCarthy in the late summer and early fall to do something on impeachment.
‘McCarthy has shown over this last eight or nine months that he’s been in charge that he does not have a whole lot of grip over his own caucus,’ said David Cohen, political science professor at the University of Akron. ‘McCarthy’s going to have to give in to the conservatives in his party. I don’t know that he has a choice if he wants to remain Speaker.’
It would be risky for McCarthy to forge ahead on impeachment. And, it may be risky for McCarthy not to forge ahead on impeachment.
History may not repeat itself. But it sure does rhyme.
Voters punished Republicans 25 years ago for impeaching former President Clinton. Voters believed the impeachment wasn’t warranted.
It’s unclear where middle-of-the-road voters are on impeachment this year. The GOP campaigned on fixing the supply chain and the economy. Not impeachment.
When Republicans impeached Mr. Clinton in 1998, the president had very high approval ratings. That’s not the case with President Biden. And that’s why this impeachment dynamic may be harder to figure out.