Congressional Republicans return to Washington this week, and the hard-right lawmakers who nearly blocked Rep. Kevin McCarthy from the speaker’s chair are pressing him to hold a vote on launching an impeachment inquiry into President Biden.
But McCarthy’s narrow majority is at risk in the 2024 elections, and a move toward impeaching Biden — especially without compelling evidence that the president has committed high crimes or misdemeanors — will put the most vulnerable Republicans in a tough spot.
Impeachment is not popular in the 18 districts that Biden won in 2020 but that are currently held by House Republicans, according to an August poll commissioned by the Congressional Integrity Project, a Democratic-aligned nonprofit. Five of those vulnerable incumbents— John Duarte of Modesto, Young Kim of Orange County, David Valadao of Hanford, Michelle Steel of Seal Beach and Mike Garcia of Santa Clarita — represent California districts.
Opinions about impeachment break down mostly along partisan lines: 84% of Trump voters in the poll said impeachment would be a serious effort to investigate; 92% of Biden voters said it would be a partisan stunt. But Trump voters are slightly more divided on the subject than Biden voters. In swing districts, that gap could make all the difference.
California’s five most vulnerable incumbent Republicans don’t seem to want to discuss impeachment. Their offices either declined to comment or did not respond when The Times reached out to ask about the subject last week.
But that silence won’t stop Democrats and their allies from hammering the issue. The Congressional Integrity Project launched a digital ad campaign against all 18 Biden-district Republicans on Tuesday.
“After seven weeks at home, Representative Mike Garcia is returning to Washington,” one ad says. “America faces critical priorities: healthcare, the economy, the cost of living. But MAGA Republican leaders like [Kevin] McCarthy and Marjorie Taylor Greene want to focus on their bogus impeachment of President Biden, even though they have no evidence. All to protect Donald Trump.”
The call then urges viewers to call Garcia’s office to “tell him to focus on real priorities. Not Bogus impeachment stunts.”
The Constitution does not require a vote to open an impeachment inquiry, legal experts say. Previous probes began without one.
But even if McCarthy holds a vote, the measure might not pass. Democrats are all but certain to unanimously oppose it, and vulnerable Republicans may choose to vote against it. A handful of dissenters could kill the effort. Even some far-right lawmakers are not on board with the probe, with one member of the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus calling the push “absurd.”
The impeachment push also comes at a precarious moment: The federal government will shut down by the end of the month unless both chambers can agree on legislation to send to the White House. McCarthy has floated a measure to extend the deadline and give lawmakers more time to negotiate since they are not yet close to a deal.
But even if McCarthy can agree to a compromise with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, he will need almost his entire party to be on board.
Some far-right lawmakers have threatened to withhold their votes on spending and others have threatened to oust McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) from the speakership if he doesn’t make a serious move toward impeachment.
The exact target of a formal Biden impeachment inquiry remains unclear. Although many lawmakers have highlighted Biden’s son Hunter’s legal troubles, others have sought to highlight his handling of the American military’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan and pointed to unsubstantiated allegations of malfeasance while he was vice president.
The White House and its allies have repeatedly blasted Republicans’ moves toward impeachment, describing them as partisan and unfounded. “Republicans are engaged in a purely political exercise,” Kyle Herrig, executive director of the Congressional Integrity Project, told The Times. “They’re looking to impeach the president without a shred of evidence of any wrongdoing.”
If Republicans go down the impeachment road, they “better have some hard and compelling evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors,” Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster at North Star Opinion Research, told The Times.
“Otherwise it just looks like a publicity stunt,” he said. A publicity-stunt impeachment inquiry, he added, would not sit well with swing voters.