The Memo: McCarthy’s impeachment gamble carries deep risks 

Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) decision to launch an impeachment inquiry of President Biden carries serious risks as well as opportunities for his party. 

The politics of McCarthy’s decision are, at one level, easy to understand. 

The Speaker, who famously took 15 rounds of voting to be elected to his current position, is under pressure from his right-flank to take action.  

The decision to move forward with an inquiry is a middle ground, of a kind, between doing nothing and pursuing articles of impeachment straight off the bat, as firebrand Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) tried to do in June. 

McCarthy contends there is a “culture of corruption” around the Biden family, despite the fact that no direct evidence of wrongdoing by the president has emerged.  

The investigation might shake loose such proof — or not.  

Three House committees will be empowered to look into possible impeachable offenses, and McCarthy pledged Tuesday to go “wherever the evidence takes us.” 

Still, McCarthy will have to be nimble if he is to avoid several tripwires. 

For a start, moderate House members — especially the 18 Republicans who represent districts carried by Biden in 2020 — are notably less enthusiastic about any move toward impeachment, given the dearth of evidence so far. 

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said Tuesday that he would have recommended against the inquiry. He also wants McCarthy to hold a vote on the matter, which the Speaker is trying to avoid. “I think it’s the right thing to do,” Bacon told The Hill. 

Meanwhile, there is consternation in the Senate at the drive toward impeachment, with Republicans in the upper chamber plainly skeptical of the effort.  

Among their reservations, they know that any vote to convict and remove the president — an action that has never before been taken in American history and would require a two-thirds Senate majority — is utterly implausible in a chamber where Democrats hold a narrow majority. 

“It’s a waste of time; it’s a fool’s errand,” one Republican senator who requested anonymity told The Hill. 

Members of Republican Senate leadership seem conspicuously eager to move onto other topics.  

“I don’t think Speaker McCarthy needs any advice from the Senate on how to run the House,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday — a phrasing that nimbly allowed McConnell to avoid expressing any opinion on the merits of the impeachment effort. 

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, told reporters: “At least over here in the Senate, we need to be focused on trying to move legislation and keep the trains running …I don’t think it’d be advantageous if this thing went further with all the other things we have to do.” 

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told The Hill that the effort by her party colleagues in the House “is frustrating, obviously. I don’t know what the evidence is, where they’re going with this.” 

Meanwhile, Democrats are hitting back hard at an impeachment effort they are portraying as partisan and pointless. 

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) the ranking member of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, argued in a Monday statement, before McCarthy made his announcement, that the Republican investigations of Biden were “a transparent effort to boost Donald Trump’s campaign by establishing a false moral equivalency” between the former president and Biden.

Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) went viral Tuesday when a reporter tweeted footage of his reaction to being asked about McCarthy’s decision. Fetterman laughed mockingly and said, “Oh my gosh! Oh it’s devastating. Ooooh don’t do it, please don’t do it!” 

To be fair, public concern about the president’s potential involvement with Hunter Biden’s business dealings is far from nonexistent. 

A Yahoo News/YouGov poll last month asked respondents whether they believed the president had done “anything illegal regarding Hunter Biden.” 

A plurality, 44 percent, believed the president “definitely” or “probably” had done so, while 32 percent believed the opposite.  

The opinions of Democratic and Republican voters broke down along predictable lines in that poll, but self-identified independents broke against the president: 47 percent in total believed he had likely done something illegal while just 25 percent thought he had not. 

Those findings suggest there could be fertile ground for Republicans to till in their impeachment inquiry. Furthermore, any unambiguously incriminating evidence regarding the president would be a political game changer. 

For now, however, there is the big question of whether independent voters want Congress to spend its time on an impeachment inquiry when other topics, notably inflation and the economy, top public concerns. 

A poll from the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling at the end of last month found 56 percent of registered voters believed an impeachment inquiry would be a “partisan political stunt,” far outstripping the 38 percent who contended that it would be a “serious effort to investigate important problems.” 

Democrats, for the moment, believe they can cast the inquiry as a partisan-driven distraction to appease MAGA headliners.  

“This is an illegitimate impeachment inquiry. Period. Full stop,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference. 

That argument can stand for now — so long as no damning revelations emerge.  

It’s a high-stakes game and neither side is blinking yet. 

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.  

Alexander Bolton, Mychael Schnell and Al Weaver contributed. 

Tags Biden Impeachment Don Bacon Hunter Biden Hunter Biden Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Kevin McCarthy Lauren Boebert Mitch McConnell Mitch McConnell