McCarthy Moves To Impeach (To Save His Own Skin)

[ Posted Tuesday, September 12th, 2023 – 15:15 UTC ]

When I was born, there had only been one U.S. president impeached in all of American history. When I was a child, impeachment proceedings were launched against a second, but he resigned before the House of Representatives could impeach him. But since that time, a president has been impeached three times: Bill Clinton for lying about having sex with a White House intern; and Donald Trump both for trying to strongarm the leader of another country in order to create some dirt on his political opponent, and then for instigating an insurrection attempt rather than facing the reality that he lost his re-election effort. Now we stand at the brink of a possible fourth presidential impeachment in my lifetime.

We are where we are for one reason and one reason only: Speaker Kevin McCarthy's political weakness. McCarthy announced today that an impeachment inquiry would be launched solely because he had to assuage the extremists on his right flank, right at the start of a very contentious budget fight. He is using the impeachment process as a political prize for the crazies in his caucus, in the hopes that they won't depose him as speaker when he has to inevitably cut some sort of budget deal with the Democrats in his chamber, the Democrats and the Republicans in the Senate, and the White House. He is going to have to cut this deal -- that much is not in question -- but he is terrified (for good reason) that right after he does, the extremist wing of his own party will try to oust him as speaker. So he is tossing them this impeachment inquiry as a bone in the hopes that they won't, plain and simple.

The truly laughable part of all this is that McCarthy has been swearing up and down that he wouldn't make this move without putting it on the floor for the whole House to vote on it. Here he is in an interview conducted less than two weeks ago, reiterating the point:

To open an impeachment inquiry is a serious matter, and House Republicans would not take it lightly or use it for political purposes. The American people deserve to be heard on this matter through their elected representatives. That's why, if we move forward with an impeachment inquiry, it would occur through a vote on the floor of the People's House and not through a declaration by one person.

Today, McCarthy (one person) declared that an impeachment inquiry would begin. No vote will be taken, he just unilaterally decided the matter on his own. This is not unprecedented, since Nancy Pelosi opened an impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump in 2019 without a floor vote. At the time, McCarthy was incensed about this and drafted a resolution condemning her for this action. This resolution ended quite forcefully:

Whereas that report [a Committee Report that launched the impeachment of Bill Clinton] further stated: "Because impeachment is delegated solely to the House of Representatives by the Constitution, the full House of Representatives should be involved in critical decision making regarding various stages of impeachment.";

Whereas the Speaker's extraordinary decision to move forward with an impeachment inquiry without any debate or vote on such a resolution by the full House undermines the voting privileges afforded to each Member and the constituents they represent; and

Whereas this unprecedented and politically motivated decision by Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi represents an abuse of power and brings discredit to the House of Representatives: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives disapproves of the actions of the Speaker of the House, Mrs. Pelosi of California, to initiate an impeachment inquiry against the duly elected President of the United States, Donald J. Trump.

That was then, this is now. McCarthy hasn't explicitly said so, but the real reason he made his unilateral move on impeachment is that he does not have the votes to get it approved by the whole House. He's got a razor-thin majority to begin with, a few of his members are absent, so he'd need virtually every single Republican vote to get it through -- and he just does not have them. Here is just one of them, Representative Ken Buck, from an interview last weekend:

The time for impeachment is the time when there's evidence linking President Biden, if there's evidence linking President Biden to a high crime or misdemeanor, that doesn't exist right now.

He's not the only one, either. Republicans in districts that Joe Biden won (and other battleground districts) are leery of beginning impeachment because they know their own voters aren't going to like it. They know that their political control of the House could actually hinge on the issue -- something McCarthy seems to be ignoring (because he is politically so weak he has to kowtow to his extremist wing).

The White House reacted with a scathing statement of their own:

The House Republicans' investigations for the past 9 months have proved that -- as their own witnesses testify the President hasn't done anything wrong, and their own documents show no ties to the President. They have no evidence, so they're launching the next phase of their evidence-free goose chase simply to throw red meat to the right wing so they can continue baselessly attacking the president to play extreme politics.

What's truly ironic in all of this is that you can draw a straight line from Trump's first impeachment (the one McCarthy was so upset over) to what is going on right now. Trump tried to pressure the leader of Ukraine -- by threatening to withhold military aid -- into announcing that his country had opened an investigation into Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son. That's all Trump wanted -- he didn't care if an investigation ever actually happened in Ukraine, he just wanted an announcement of one to use as a political talking point against his opponent. Ukraine never did open an investigation, because there wasn't any evidence that Hunter had done anything wrong there. Back in the U.S., a sprawling investigation was launched against Hunter that has dragged on for five years now. They were looking for any evidence of influence-peddling or other financial crimes (possibly tied to foreign agents). They found two years of taxes Hunter was late on paying and a gun application where he had lied about being addicted to drugs. That's it. That is all they found on Hunter, even after looking for five whole years.

This didn't faze the House Republicans, who immediately upon taking control of the chamber launched their own investigation into Hunter's business dealings -- with the hopes that they somehow could link his tawdry deals cashing in on his last name to his father in some way (especially when Joe was vice president). They have found no evidence of any of this, nine months later. All they have is what they started with -- unsubstantiated accusations, backed up by no evidence at all.

This is why the moderate Republicans in the House are not convinced that an impeachment inquiry is even merited, at this point. This is why McCarthy would have lost a floor vote on the issue. Because there's zero evidence of any "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors," as the Constitution lays out. Joe Biden never talked business with any of Hunter's associates. He never did anything while in office to help his son out. He also never received a dime of any of the money various people paid Hunter.

But this isn't going to stop McCarthy and the House GOP extremists. They're just going to keep digging in the hopes of turning up something (anything!) to use against Joe Biden during the presidential campaign.

This may not even work out the way McCarthy is hoping it will. He may still be in trouble from his own caucus in the midst of the budget negotiations. He is being forced to adopt very hardball positions on the budget right now, but sooner or later he's going to have to face the reality that he's going to have to hammer out a compromise with the Senate and the White House. All (or almost all) of those hardball positions the House Republicans are now squabbling over are going to wind up on the cutting room floor, at that stage. And when the hotheads in the House realize the truth of the matter, they're going to go ballistic. Being tossed an impeachment bone may not count for much when we get to that point. McCarthy may be in trouble anyway, in other words.

So far, we've had a five-year investigation by the Justice Department into Hunter Biden, and nine months of rabid MAGA Republicans investigating in various House committees. With precisely nothing of substance to show for any of it. McCarthy's announcement won't create a new "impeachment committee," instead he is just shifting the investigations that are already underway in three committees into a higher gear. But since there doesn't appear to be anything to find, it's not going to matter. They can launch all the inquiries they want, but absent any actual evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden (not Hunter, who has never been a government employee and is not going to appear on any ballot), the entire thing is just going to be a political wild-goose chase. And if it doesn't even save McCarthy's speakership, the whole thing is going to be a completely pointless exercise in rabid partisanship. If the voters see all of this playing out and turn control of the House back to the Democrats next year, it could wind up being the worst move McCarthy has ever made.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


4 Comments on “McCarthy Moves To Impeach (To Save His Own Skin)”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, this COULD be turning into an opportunity ... if anyone in the White House would know an opportunity if an opportunity knocked them upside the head, let alone know what to do with it.

    What we will have here, as we always do, is a sad and sorry lack of imagination.

  2. [2] 
    andygaus wrote:

    I don't see why he didn't just put it out to a floor vote and say, "It's not my fault if people won't vote for it."

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Of course, ALL of this could have been easily avoided if the potentially campaign-sabotaging son hadn't taken a seat on the board of a Ukrainian company while his father was the freakin' vice president of the United States AND who was not only in charge of the Ukraine file but also part of an international effort to sack the then leading Ukrainian prosecutor for not doing his job to prosecute said Ukrainian company for corruption.

    Stupid is as stupid does, as they say ...

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    And, the comeback to [3] would be that Republicans would have found something else to trigger an impeachment inquiry - and they may even have found something slightly more serious - but that would be what's called deflection. :)

    Deflection won't retain the White House and Senate or retake the house in 2024 - not by a long shot!

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