I’ve been following Joe Biden’s career since 1972 when he ran for the U.S. Senate, a conservative and race-panderer who had been a Republican and then an independent and finally a Democrat… but always a conservative. I never liked him and never considered voting for him— not in a primary, not in a general election… not even when he ran against Trump in 2020. Now he’s another mediocre Democratic president in a long line of post-FDR mediocre presidents. Mediocre though, is not an impeachable offense and I wonder how many voters who have made up their minds to cast their ballots for Republican House candidates are aware they are also voting to impeach Biden— and to support other aspects of Marjorie Traitor Greene’s agenda.
Yesterday, in an essay, The Impeachment Of Joe Biden, Barton Gellman made some educated guesses about how this is going to unfold, noting that “Sometime next year, after an interval of performative investigations, Republicans in the House are going to impeach Joe Biden. This may not be their present plan, but they will work themselves up to it by degrees. The pressure from the MAGA base will build. A triggering event will burst all restraints. Eventually, Republicans will leave themselves little choice… A University of Massachusetts Amherst poll in May found that 68 percent of Republican voters think the House should impeach Biden. A majority expect that it will impeach him. Thwarting those expectations would be dangerous for any House Republican. The poll numbers for impeachment correspond closely to the belief among Republicans that Biden is an illegitimate president… Election denial is the core position of the GOP today.”
It sounds pretty staggering but two-thirds of the members of the party that is likely to win the congressional midterms in 2 weeks “voted to overturn the presidential election in 2020— including Kevin McCarthy, who is likely to become the next speaker. A new cohort of incoming members, Republican nominees in safe red districts, has campaigned as election deniers. After a number of forced retirements and establishment defeats in primaries this year, very few party members will publicly concede that Biden won a free and fair election.” And, most importantly, Trump’s supporters demand “retribution.”
Ultimately, McCarthy will go whichever way the wind is blowing and do whatever Trump tells him to do but Gellman’s sources tell him that McCarthy is worried that impeachment could backfire with voters and that he “wants to oversee subpoenas and Benghazi-style hearings to weaken the president ahead of the 2024 election, not issue a call for Biden’s removal. But there is little reason to think that McCarthy can resist the GOP’s impulse to impeach once it gathers strength. He is a notably weak leader of a conference that proved unmanageable for his predecessors Paul Ryan and John Boehner. If he does in fact reach the speakership, his elevation will be a testament to his strategy of avoiding conflict with those forces. Trump remains the strongest influence on McCarthy’s caucus. Anytime he cares to intervene, he will be the dominant figure in setting Republican priorities in the House.” Presumably Trump will want to see Biden impeached 3 times.
On January 21, 2021, Joe Biden’s first full day in office, Marjorie Taylor Greene filed the first article of impeachment against him. At the time, House Resolution 57 was no more than a sneer at a president whom Greene called illegitimate. With the House under Democratic control, Greene had to know she would get no floor vote or committee referral. The House leadership did not even acknowledge the submission.
But the threat that Greene posed to Biden was not empty. In the long term, it will prove to be very real.
Greene— for all her history of anti-Semitic, racist, and ludicrously conspiratorial remarks— holds a position of growing influence in her party. Unlike Nancy Pelosi, the current speaker, McCarthy cannot ignore Greene’s next impeachment resolutions, which she has promised in the new year.
“Marjorie Taylor Greene is going to have, if not more of, as much a say in the message and political focus of a Republican House conference than Kevin McCarthy will,” [GOP ex-spokeperson Kevin] Madden said. “That’s just a very real pressure Kevin McCarthy is going to face.”
Greene’s day-one impeachment maneuver set the tone for the Republican conference. In August of 2021 she offered three more resolutions, gathering eight co-sponsors, including fellow bomb-throwers and election deniers Matt Gaetz and Paul Gosar. Soon other members of the Freedom Caucus caught on.
Another resolution was introduced the following month. Yet another less than two weeks after that. Three days later, Lauren Boebert introduced a pair of resolutions against Biden and Kamala Harris. (In a nice piece of recursive logic, one of the charges against Harris was failing to invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to remove Biden.) The barrage continued with another impeachment resolution in April, and still another— from Greene again— last month.
…At some point in 2023, momentum for impeachment will build.
What charge could Republicans use on Biden?
Advocates will have to come up with something that a majority of the House will endorse, and that will take time.
I talked with a lot of Republicans for this story, and the subject they mentioned most often was the president’s son Hunter Biden. “Hunter” is an all-purpose emblem of scandal in the GOP, and to some extent that is justified. He has admitted to abusing drugs; he was thinly qualified for his position on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian natural-gas company, which he held while his father was vice president; and he is reportedly under federal investigation for alleged tax crimes and for lying about his drug use on an application to buy a gun. (He has said that professional advisers helped him with his tax affairs and is confident they were handled legally.)
The problem for those who want to impeach is how to connect the president to his son’s alleged misadventures. Republicans who mentioned “the Hunter issue”— even those who predicted that it would be the central predicate for impeachment— grew vague when I asked them how it demonstrated wrongdoing by the president. One said it showed “a pay-to-play scheme,” but did not specify who paid whom for what corrupt purpose.
…Another oft-mentioned reason for impeachment is Biden’s immigration policies and border enforcement. One impeachment resolution offered last year alleged that Biden “has allowed illegal aliens to enter the United States in violation of immigration law, admitted aliens who have tested positive for COVID-19 into the United States, countered the will of Congress by not completing the southern border wall, [and] deprived border agents of the sufficient manpower and resources needed to secure the border.” This is a policy dispute, but Congress gets to define high crimes and misdemeanors any way it likes.
The botched U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last year offers another potential basis for impeachment. A resolution backed by eight Republicans said Biden “failed to secure the extraction of thousands of American civilians and Afghan allies before and during the withdrawal.” The resolution also said, accurately, that Biden “armed our enemies by leaving numerous weapons, ammunition, and other military equipment which could be used against American citizens, allies, and other civilians in Afghanistan.”
Republicans have also offered the federal government’s temporary ban on evictions as grounds for impeachment. According to three members of the Freedom Caucus, Biden showed “disrespect for Congress” and disregard for a (nonbinding) concurring Supreme Court opinion that cast doubt on the CDC’s authority to halt evictions.
Last month, in her latest impeachment charge, Greene accused Biden of “endangering, compromising, and undermining the energy security of the United States by selling oil from the United States’ Strategic Petroleum Reserve to foreign nations.”
None of these rises to impeachable conduct by historical standards. But the GOP will find some new cause for outrage. Some leading Republicans say the details won’t even matter.
Senator Ted Cruz, speaking on his podcast in December, opined that Biden’s impeachment, “whether it’s justified or not,” will come in revenge for Trump’s. “The Democrats weaponized impeachment. They used it for partisan purposes to go after Trump because they disagreed with him. And one of the real disadvantages of doing that … is the more you weaponize it and turn it into a partisan cudgel, you know, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
As George Conway, an establishment Republican turned Trump critic, put it, “This is a party that basically lives off of false equivalences now.”
…For die-hard Trump allies, impeaching Biden is good politics no matter what. But for McCarthy and the rest of the prospective House leadership, there are pitfalls. “There are lots of reasons not to go on an impeachment bonanza,” says Brendan Buck, who was a top aide to both Boehner and Ryan, “not the least of which is that it could politically be viewed as overreach and make House Republicans look crazy and make Joe Biden, by contrast, look better.”
But McCarthy’s equivocation on impeachment carries the seeds of its own collapse. He wants to mollify angry voters and zealous members of his conference by orchestrating aggressive investigations of Biden, but hopes to stop short of calling for the president’s removal. That strategy has two likely outcomes, either of which spells trouble for McCarthy. If the investigations don’t damage Biden, the party’s base will insist on stronger medicine. If they do, the base will demand that McCarthy finish the job.
The tipping point may be Jim Jordan. He is a co-founder and leading member of the Freedom Caucus, and no stranger to extreme rhetoric about Biden. But his looming chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee will nudge him toward institutional prerogatives and the orderly execution of McCarthy’s plans. So far he has been carefully ambiguous about impeachment, saying, “That’s definitely a discussion we have to have,” but raising the bar for proceeding: “The conference has to decide. You have to have complete buy-in from the entire conference and the leadership of our conference.”
So Jordan is with McCarthy’s program for now, but he has long made sure to position himself on the front lines against Democrats. He will not allow himself to be outdone by zealots like Greene and Gaetz once momentum for impeachment builds. He will want to be sure that his committee is the primary venue for confronting Biden. When he embraces impeachment, the die will be cast.
More than anything, my confidence that impeachment is coming relies in the end on a firm belief that Trump will demand it. His own impeachments humiliated him, and losing to Biden was an injury from which his ego has yet to recover. He is obsessed with revenge. His lifelong survival technique is to turn every accusation back on his opponents. And when he is on the defensive, as he is now on multiple legal fronts, he is especially prone to deflect attacks elsewhere.
In the new year, there will come an event that triggers all those instincts. Given his reaction to the Mar-a-Lago search warrant, and his barely veiled warnings about violence if he is indicted, that event might well be the revelation of criminal charges against him. Trump’s explosive reaction, amplified by his followers and enablers, will change every Republican’s calculus on impeachment.
Gradually, and then suddenly, impeachment will become as much a litmus test for Republican House members as the Big Lie. McCarthy— “my Kevin,” as Trump styles him— will not hold back that tide. In the end, he will not even try.
Is there a way for specific voters to put an end to impeachment right now— or at least a week from next Tuesday? There is. No single voter— and that’s what we’re talking about— can keep the Republicans from winning a majority in the House. But voters in a number of districts where MAGA radicals are running can make the difference. If enough of these extremists are defeated other Republicans will get the point. I want to suggest 16 feasible but unexpected races where conscientious voters can end impeachment right now (bolded names would send messages that even the right-wing media would recognize):
CA-23- replace Kevin McCarthy puppet Jay Obernolte with Derek Marshall (R+8)
CO-03- replace Marjorie Traitor Greene's top lieutenant Lauren Boebert with Adam Frisch (R+7)
IA-01- replace Marionette Miller-Meeks with state Rep Christina Bohannan (R+3)
IA-02- replace Ashley Hinson with state Sen Liz Mathis (R+4)
MI-03- reject MAGA crackpot John Gibbs (D+1)
MI-10- reject John James (R+3)
MT-01- reject Trump ally Ryan Zinke (R+6)
NJ-02- replace Trump ally Jeff Van Drew with Tim Alexander (R+5)
NC-13- reject Trump ally Bo Hines (R+2)
OH-01- replace Steve Chabot with Greg Landsman (D+2)
OH-07- reject Trump puppet Max Miller (R+7)
OH-13- reject Trump ally Madison Gesiotto Gilbert (R+1)
PA-10- replace top Trump ally Scott Perry with Shamaine Daniels (R+5)
TX-15- reject Trump ally Monica De La Cruz (R+1)
VA-01- replace Rob Wittman with Herb Jones (R+6)
WA-03- reject MAGA extremist Joe Kent (R+5)