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Biden Impeachment Inquiry Is About Placating the MAGA Base

James Comer, chair of the House Oversight Committee, which has produced scant actual evidence of impeachable conduct by Joe Biden.
Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

On December 13, the U.S. House narrowly approved a formal “impeachment inquiry” aimed at Joe Biden on a strict party-line vote. It is universally understood that Republicans do not and may never have the votes to actually impeach Biden. Even if they did, he would easily survive a trial in the Senate, where a two-thirds vote is required for conviction barring some weird, lurid revelation far beyond the scope of anything presently being alleged.

So by definition, this “inquiry” is at best an authorization of a fishing expedition for evidence of misconduct that doesn’t seem to exist at the moment. At worst, it’s a phony-baloney procedure. More technically, House Speaker Mike Johnson has explained that the GOP needs a formal authorization of an impeachment inquiry to give House subpoenas greater coercive power via the courts (it was launched informally by Johnson’s predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, in September). Democrats under Nancy Pelosi went through the same two-step process before the first impeachment of Donald Trump, in 2020.

So far, the major object of the current inquiry, conducted by the House Oversight Committee, has involved murky business dealings by Hunter Biden and the theoretical possibility that the president, as the head of what Republicans like to call the “Biden Crime Family,” might have benefited. And there’s not much question that the formal inquiry was goosed into activation by the twin phenomena of a new Hunter Biden indictment on tax and gun charges and his refusal to testify before or give a deposition to the Oversight Committee in the closed hearings on which that panel insists. There’s no telling when the probe might lurch into an array of wild claims about President Biden himself, including his alleged “weaponization of federal law enforcement” to persecute poor Donald Trump and/or his malicious decision to open the southern border to drug dealers and terrorists, etc., etc.

The fact that the vote to formalize the impeachment inquiry was unanimously Republican tells you a lot about its ultimate meaninglessness. It was the last step the conference could take without consequences that might discomfit House members in competitive 2024 districts. Thus, announcements of support for this step were often coupled with declarations that nobody has the kind of dirt on Biden that might justify impeachment, as The Hill reports:

Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio) said Wednesday that he has yet to see any evidence to support the accusations against President Biden, despite voting to formalize the impeachment inquiry into him earlier that day. 

“The process has been abused,” Joyce said in an interview with NewsNation’s Dan Abrams. “It’s meant to take out mentally deficient folks, somebody who’s lost their mind while they’re in office, or somebody who’s a [former Rep. George] Santos, like where they’ve committed crimes while they’re in office.”

“And you know, I don’t see that yet, but the opportunity for the operative committees to gather the information and present it in an orderly fashion so people can make rational decisions is what I base my decision on,” he continued during the appearance on “Dan Abrams Live.”

Joyce’s take suggests a deeper motive for the decision to formally attach the I-word to Biden: Many Republicans believe the two Trump impeachments represented an abuse of the impeachment power. But the decision also represents a nod to the GOP’s MAGA base, which shares the 45th president’s thirst for vengeance. Indeed, it would take two Biden impeachments, not just one, to satisfy Trump fans that the balance of inequities had been achieved.

Moving as far toward a first impeachment as the House balance of power allows provides the only morsel of nourishment the congressional GOP is in a position to give to Trump and his minions; it will at least generate some more anti-Biden material for right-wing media for the long general election just ahead. Conversely, voting for this empty gesture is sort of the price of admission for non-Trumpy House Republicans, who can now scoff at it without earning themselves a primary opponent.

In the meantime, Biden has become the fourth president to be the subject of a formal impeachment inquiry. Three of them (Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Trump) were ultimately impeached, though none of them was convicted by the Senate. The fourth, Richard Nixon, was on the brink of impeachment by the House when he agreed to resign. The underlying offenses ranged from lying about sex with an intern (Clinton), to elaborate efforts to abuse presidential power (Nixon and Trump I), to insurrectionary efforts to overturn the results of an election (Trump II), to a bloody civil war (Johnson). It’s anybody’s guess where the shadowy allegations against Biden will fall on a spectrum that runs from the “genetic material” on Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress to the incitement of the Capitol riot of January 6, 2021. But it’s pretty clear that the impeachment train will grind to a halt next year. Perhaps if Biden wins a second term and Republicans hang on to the House, they can try again later.


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