House Republicans’ newly announced impeachment inquiry into President Biden compares unfavorably with Donald Trump’s impeachments in many ways.
An op-ed by Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) published by The Washington Post on Friday spotlighted one of the most significant: the intraparty pushback.
Buck, the member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus who has emerged as an unlikely critic of the GOP’s “weaponization” and impeachment efforts, was unsparing. Rather than merely saying the inquiry was premature or counterproductive, he argued it was effectively based on a myth.
Central to the GOP’s impeachment effort is the idea that then-Vice President Biden’s push to oust Ukraine Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin in 2015 was corrupt. To hear members of Buck’s party and conservative media tell it, that’s because Shokin was looking into Burisma, the Ukrainian company whose board included Hunter Biden.
Except that appears to be the opposite of what was happening; the Obama White House and others in the West wanted Shokin out because he was soft on corruption.
As Buck takes care to emphasize:
Not content to let the point pass in a couple of paragraphs, Buck continued:
“The GOP’s ‘gotcha’ narrative.” “No evidence.” “Itching for an impeachment.” “An imagined history.” “A fictitious version of Shokin’s career.”
Buck could have just said it’s too early to be talking about impeachment. He could have said the alleged offenses aren’t impeachable. Instead, he went after the supposed facts underlying impeachment, accusing his own allies of effectively inventing a justification to do something they already wanted to do. (Indeed, Buck predicted 17 months ago that Republicans would impeach Biden.)
And this is coming from a man normally allied with those who are most actively forcing the impeachment issues: the Freedom Caucus.
This is not normal.
Buck is certainly the most outspoken among the GOP critics of the impeachment inquiry, but he’s hardly the only one. A number of them spoke out in advance of McCarthy’s announcement last week. A handful have offered qualified support for the inquiry since then, but it’s clear that plenty are saying the evidence is simply not there.
Which is not where we were with Trump’s impeachments.
Trump’s first impeachment — also focused on Ukraine — was a particularly slow build.
By the time then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the inquiry in late September 2019, a CNN whip count showed 158 House Democrats had called for one, more than two-thirds of the party’s conference.
The morning of her announcement, the effort got a shot in the arm thanks to a letter from seven of the most politically vulnerable House Democrats — in contrast with how reluctant vulnerable House Republicans have been this time.
At the time, there was little in the way of an effort to prevent the Democratic Party from going down that road before it did. About the most outspoken Democrat was Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, who appeared on Fox News days later and said there was “nothing that has turned up that truly is impeachable.” But that was after Pelosi’s announcement. (Van Drew would become a Republican less than three months later.)
The only other Democratic vote against the impeachment inquiry, when Pelosi ultimately held one in October, was from then-Rep. Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, who late in his tenure represented the most Trump-friendly district held by a Democrat.
A handful of vulnerable Democrats kept their powder dry after Pelosi pushed forward, but almost nobody spoke out in advance, as Buck and Reps. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and Michael Lawler (R-N.Y.) have, to question the evidence — even as Democrats were clearly queuing up a possible inquiry.
This would appear to be a reflection of where the public is at large. While polling when Pelosi announced the Trump inquiry showed a slight majority of Americans and independents supported that decision and about an even split on ultimately impeaching Trump, early polling shows that the Biden inquiry is quite short of majority support and that Americans tilt against ultimately impeaching him.
That could change as the investigation progresses. But there is far less direct evidence to point to when it comes to Biden’s actual conduct, which has often been the subject of patently false or baseless claims or speculative theories — after months of Republicans floating them.
There is also far less margin for error, with McCarthy able to spare only around five votes — compared with the 15 or so Pelosi could lose.
And if one of those five members happens to be in the House Freedom Caucus, of all caucuses, effectively accusing his party of imagining its case for impeachment, that’s going to significantly compromise the effort.