Impeachment inquiry shows House speaker's weakness

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

Republican Speaker of the U.S. House Kevin McCarthy announced on September 12 that he had ordered an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

Democrats should reply, “Bring it on.”

It’s no secret how McCarthy’s announcement came about. The hard-right wing of his party in the House had threatened to depose him as speaker if he didn’t launch an inquiry. And former President Donald Trump has been vociferously urging Biden’s impeachment for some time, both as revenge for his own two impeachments and as a way to detract attention from his four current indictments on 91 state or federal criminal charges.

Less than two weeks before he announced the Biden impeachment inquiry, McCarthy had said he would not authorize a Biden impeachment inquiry without a vote of the full House. That would be standard procedure: to consider an inquiry only after House committees had gathered information, subpoenaed potential witnesses, and debated the proposal in committee meetings.

But it became clear that a House vote for the inquiry would likely fail, with several Republicans already speaking out against it unless more evidence of wrongdoing by the president emerged. So hard-right Republicans forced McCarthy’s hand.

The hard-liners also are piling on by threatening to let the government shut down after September 30, the end of the current federal fiscal year, unless McCarthy agrees to their demands for sharp spending cuts for the 2023-24 federal budget year, which begins October 1.

Under new rules approved at the start of the current House session, it now takes only one member to force a "motion to vacate" (a vote to remove the speaker). Because the House is only narrowly Republican, it would take just a handful of Republicans, plus the Democratic caucus, to then vote McCarthy out of his job. Whether all Democrats would vote against McCarthy in that situation is unknown.

All these factors induced McCarthy last week to order the Biden impeachment inquiry without further proceedings. The question, of course, is whether there’s enough evidence of supposed Biden wrongdoing to bring about his impeachment.

The answer right now is “no.” Republican investigations have been ongoing for years, with no firm evidence yet brought forth. GOP committees have been looking into supposed misdeeds by the president, centering on suggested financial corruption in concert with his son Hunter Biden.

Hunter Biden was indicted last week for falsely denying that he was an illegal drug abuser when he applied for a gun permit in 2018. He’s also under investigation for allegedly failing to pay taxes on about $4 million of income in 2017 and 2018.

Trump fought mightily to avoid handing over subpoenaed documents during his impeachments, and has continued to do so in connection with his four current indictments. Those refusals suggest there’s fire where there’s smoke. Nothing prevents Trump from turning over documents, so long as they’re not legally classified and therefore unavailable to the public or the judicial eye.

Biden would do well to learn from Trump’s recalcitrance: give investigators whatever can legally be revealed, and cooperate with requests and subpoenas whenever possible. Biden and his White House team insist the president has done nothing wrong. If that’s the case, he should be more than willing to prove it by cooperating with the House inquiry.

Biden can weaken his Republican opposition by cooperating. The more the inquiry shows “there’s no there there,” the weaker his opponents are shown to be. The president should jump at that opportunity.

Top image: Screenshot from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's September 12 announcement that he had ordered an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

  • not impeached

    President Biden certainly isn't going to be impeached. However the hearing will shed light on the "money train" for Hunter while Joe turned a blind eye. With Biden at 39% approval in latest CNN poll some party insiders would prefer the Biden-Harris ticket to step aside.

  • Now is Not the Time

    One thing is consistent with the “step aside” crowd . . . they offer no practical alternative to Joe.

    As a moderate progressive, Biden will again attract the independents and reasonable Republicans needed to get to 271.

    Democrats should wait until 2028 to debate the future direction of the party.

    In 2024 . . . the stability of democracy, as we know, is at stake.

    • time to accept what differences there are and make do with what we can

      that's silly there are many good alternatives out there (from blue state Govs to various congress women, including Sen Warren who to the shame of all the past HIllary voters didn't get her shot the first go around) to Joe but as he's decided to run again the point is mute.
      As Ron Brownstein of the Atlantic (and others) has noted Biden's failures around student debt relief, voting rights, guns laws, environmental issues, etc are losing him youth, minority, and blue collar voters, so he'll have to attract more affluent voters this time around and as usual black women will likely make the remaining difference. The debate about the future is happening on many levels and in many places and is part of the routine of representative democracy so welcome it or not it's not going anywhere so might as well get involved or step aside. As for the post here Biden should do as little as possible to feed into the hype machine of the Right, it's absurd to still be going on about fears of setting precedents when it is clear that from our boy Chuck Grassley (think what he did with Supreme Court nominations and all) over to the House there are no standards of practice (let alone decency) that bind these reactionary extremists.

  • Our Best Hope

    Some good observations. Yet . . . President Biden achieved outstanding legislative results in his first two years with very narrow Senate and House majorities.

    Also, let’s not forget what Joe has accomplished to expand NATO. He’s made the world safer.

    To achieve gains on guns and voting rights, it will take 60 votes in the Senate to thwart the filibuster. That’s not on Joe.

    As for alternatives . . . I like Warren, but she’d lose. Gavin Newsome. Get ready to hear about sanctuary cities and no bail for alleged criminals.

    Two wonderful governors in Josh Shapiro and Wes Moore. But both are in the first half of their first terms.

    The most recent member of the House elected president . . . James Polk in 1844.

    I grew up in Iowa City and now live in rural Iowa. Two way different worlds.

    Joe is our best hope to preserve democracy. As he says, compare me to the alternative not the almighty.

    Appreciate your insights.

    • one election can't give us the means to create a truly representative democracy, and one can't preserve what never existed

      hi William not usually very convincing to voters to explain to them why one failed to deliver on campaign promises, or why they should embrace the largely empty promises of trickle down economics or attempts to restart manufacturing in a largely service economy. Repugs are going to call any Dem candidate a commie regardless or whether or not they represented the homeland/state of shell companies, and you are just inventing an outcome for Warren to suit yer interests which can be done with another wave of the hand for anyone including Joe. No reason why those 1st term Govs couldn't run or better yet JB Pritzker or Gretchen Whitmer, the point being still that there are many qualified candidates out there, but as I noted the incumbent has chosen to run which is the real issue not their qualifications/odds. How long since the last reality tv star huckster was elected president? Joe has the machine on his side and he will be the candidate but we sure better have a plan for Dem governance and elections that goes beyond this or as in the era leading into and beyond Obama things are going to be very dire, as someone who lives in the seeing-Red state of Iowa should know all too well regardless of their zip, no? Yes Iowa City is very pleased with being in a bubble of denial and self-congratulations and the more the Gov and co. give them to feel superior too and outraged about more they drift away from reality, but hey the suburbs continue to sprawl so all is well with the world nevermind that our state government is starving the University that our little "factory" (even if they stopped the whistle) town depends on...

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