Impeachment, investigations, infighting: GOP’s thin margin in the House stirs intraparty conflict

What will Republicans do about the I-word?

Rep. Jim Jordan, seen Tuesday, has begun to signal his plans for the Judiciary panel next Congress. But how far will Republicans go? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Jim Jordan, seen Tuesday, has begun to signal his plans for the Judiciary panel next Congress. But how far will Republicans go? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted November 18, 2022 at 1:45pm

The relatively weak red ripple from last week’s midterm elections may leave Republicans’ hopes for impeachment revenge against Joe Biden high and dry, but that probably won’t stop them from seeking dirt against the Democratic president, despite concerns from party moderates.

With Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House, a robust legislative agenda was never in the cards for the GOP. Instead, House Republicans will use their oversight powers to harry and embarrass Biden and his administration.  

Whether those investigations will lead to impeachment proceedings, however, is another matter, with GOP moderates signaling they won’t support them and conservatives lacking a large enough margin in the House to make up the difference.

“Is the appetite still there? Yes. But is it a practical possibility? Probably less likely because the margins are different,” said Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky. “If you have a big majority, you’re more likely to have votes, and you can lose members.”

With five races still left uncalled, Republicans will control anywhere from 218 to 223 seats next year, meaning they’ll have a margin over Democrats of one to 11 members. For comparison, Democrats currently hold a 220-213 majority.

“I think we should really rely on elections to change positions,” said Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb. “Some people definitely want to act; some would like impeachment. But I would warn [that] the independent voters, the swing voters, are not good with that. That’s a surefire way to find us going backwards. … In the end, if you want to change policy, we need to elect a new president.”

Other GOP moderates have similarly signaled their opposition to impeaching Biden, with South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace telling CNN she’s “not interested in tit for tat” and Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick, co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, telling Politico, “We shouldn’t even be talking about that.”

But conservative Republicans have long planned to retaliate against Donald Trump’s impeachments with removal inquiries of their own and show little interest in holding back now.

Far-right Republicans filed nine resolutions to impeach Biden in the 117th Congress, plus two against Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, and one each for Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.

Incoming Oversight and Reform Chairman James R. Comer announced Thursday that he would open an investigation into allegations that Hunter Biden traded access to his father during his vice presidency for financial gain while working for a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma. The White House called the claims “politically-motivated attacks chock full of long-debunked conspiracy theories.”

Those allegations already led to one impeachment, Trump’s first. A House inquiry found that President Trump had abused his office by withholding military aid from Ukraine unless President Volodymyr Zelenskyy launched an investigation into the Bidens.

Comer may find less support for his proceedings than Democrats did with their own after the 2018 midterms. In 2018, CNN exit polls found that 92 percent of voters who backed Democrats wanted Congress to impeach Trump. CNN didn’t ask about impeachment in 2022, but only 68 percent of Republicans in May told University of Massachusetts Amherst pollsters that Biden should be impeached.

Republican voters in this year’s midterms instead cited inflation, immigration and crime as top concerns, and moderate Republicans have said tackling those issues should be the party’s top priority.

The decision to formally impeach Biden, or anyone else in his administration, will be incoming Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan’s to make. For his part, Jordan has avoided committing to impeachment proceedings. But on Friday, he signaled his intention to investigate Mayorkas with a letter calling for the testimony of the secretary and other top-ranking DHS officials.

The GOP may not agree on whether impeachment should be the end goal, but there’s broad consensus on targeting Mayorkas.

“We’ve got a Cabinet member who’s not doing their job and putting our entire country at risk,” said Texas Rep. Beth Van Duyne. “That’s the whole reason why we have the impeachment option to begin with.”

Some members said they’d let Jordan’s hearings decide whether impeachment made sense, considering what gets revealed and the political ramifications of pursuing contentious impeachment proceedings that will split the Republican caucus.

“The wisdom [of impeachment] is one question,” said Rep. William R. Timmons IV of South Carolina. “Whether it’s going to happen is another.”

“Our oversight will be much more intense than the previous Congress’ oversight. Whether that oversight finds justification to consider impeaching anybody, we’ll see,” Timmons added.

“You got to look at the facts,” said Florida Rep. Gus Bilirakis. “I’m not going to prejudge this without doing my own research on it.”

A moderate who won his Omaha-area district by 3 points, Bacon echoed the calls for more oversight of the Biden administration’s handling of the influx of migrants along the southern border while opposing impeachment.

“When it comes to the border, it’s extreme negligence by the Biden administration — I mean, he’s not even gone down there,” he said.

Barr similarly said he supports focusing on Mayorkas and the border. But: “I wouldn’t put it in terms of impeachment,” Barr said. “I would put it in terms of holding the Biden regulators and executive branch officials accountable for policy errors.”