Skip to content

Impeachment talk boosts potential for Hill drama after August recess

‘We believe we can do many things at the same time,’ House Majority Leader Steve Scalise says

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., conducts a news conference in the Capitol on Tuesday.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., conducts a news conference in the Capitol on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Congress has all the ingredients for a political pressure cooker when members return from the long August recess, as House Republican leadership appears poised to balance must-pass spending bills with calls from hard-line conservatives to escalate congressional investigations.

By September, there could be new criminal indictments of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, and pressure to pursue an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden or other members of his administration.

There are also looming deadlines to pass a new farm bill and reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as prevent a partial government shutdown, with the two chambers taking sharply different approaches to the fiscal 2024 spending bills.

In the last few days before the recess, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who leads a narrow majority that has stumbled at times on floor action, has raised a possible impeachment inquiry into Biden, citing numerous probes into the Justice Department and its treatment of the Biden family.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., defended the Republican strategy at a news conference Wednesday, saying his party is “going to fight to get the facts out” while still being able to legislate on issues like appropriations.

“We believe we can do many things at the same time,” Scalise said.

But Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., told reporters Tuesday that pursuing an impeachment could change the environment on the Hill and grind the House to a halt.

“When you do that — and the Democrats did it twice — you pretty much can’t do anything else,” said Cole, a member of the Appropriations Committee who chairs the House Rules Committee.

Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration have pushed back on the impeachment effort, and members such as Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said it could hurt the ability to legislate in the next few months.

“There are some seriously destructive dynamics that have entered into the Republican conference, and I hear my Republican friends speaking most about impeachment and about shutting down the government,” Raskin said. “And that’s just a wrecking ball strategy for America.”

Intertwined issues

The issues already are intertwined in some ways. House Republicans have pushed for dozens of appropriations riders that could cause a fight in the coming months, including one that would put “nonpartisan career staff” in charge of “politically sensitive” investigations.

Republicans have argued for months that the Justice Department has treated Biden’s family and Trump differently, even during the Trump administration. While backers have argued it would take bias out of probes of elected officials and their families, Democrats have called it a poison pill and an attack on the DOJ.

The spending bill with that provision is one of the few to have not received a vote from the full House Appropriations Committee. And the Senate has moved forward with its version of the Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill without those provisions.

While Scalise said the two chambers may be able to use the August recess for spending negotiations to avoid an omnibus bill, there will not be much time left. When Congress returns from its August recess there will be just 11 legislative days when both chambers are in session before government funding runs out.

And conservative demands in spending bills have already threatened to derail that process in other parts of government funding, as Republicans have struggled to pass legislation with a narrow majority.

Republicans also have criticized the Justice Department’s investigation into Hunter Biden, prompting the agency to take the unusual step of offering testimony from Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney David Weiss in Delaware when the House returns in September.

Assistant Attorney General Carlos Uriarte wrote that “we are deeply concerned by any misrepresentations about our work — whether deliberate or arising from misunderstandings — that could unduly harm public confidence in the evenhanded administration of justice.”

Uriarte wrote that while the department usually avoids discussions of ongoing investigations, it would be “strongly in the public interest for the American people and Congress to hear directly” from Weiss at the House Judiciary Committee.

Several politically sensitive investigations could also boil over by the time Congress returns in September. Georgia prosecutor Fani Willis has indicated that she may bring charges in a grand jury probe of Trump’s effort to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state by the end of August.

Additionally, Special Counsel John L. “Jack” Smith has run a second federal grand jury probe out of Washington into the broader effort to overturn the 2020 election. Trump himself said he had received a letter noting he was a target of that probe last week.

Impeachment inquiry

McCarthy this week cited statements from Biden related to his family members and money from China, as well as a House Oversight Committee probe into the criminal case against Hunter Biden and an unverified FBI tip that members of the Biden family had been bribed by Ukrainian entities.

“Should we ignore that or should we investigate it? The only way to investigate that is through an impeachment inquiry,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy, who only won his speakership after more than a dozen ballots earlier this year, has faced continual pressure from his right flank to impeach administration officials.

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., who has played a role in conservative efforts that stalled McCarthy’s election as speaker and then paralyzed the House floor for several days in June, told reporters Tuesday that “we probably should have moved to an impeachment inquiry probably sooner than this. But I understand.”

The conservative push for impeachment has yet to win over all members of the Republican caucus, however. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said the information he has seen so far does not yet rise to the level of an impeachment inquiry. “But I do want the committee digging into this. I think the facts that we’re seeing are alarming. But I’d rather do it in a very thorough, conscientious way so that the citizens know we’re doing it in a very conscientious way,” he said.

Democrats have added a few political efforts of their own to the mix; there is already a pending censure resolution for Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., who is currently facing more than a dozen federal charges.

First-term Rep. Becca Balint, D-Vt., announced Tuesday a measure to censure Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. Greene, who was once removed from House committees for her rhetoric, has become a high-profile ally of McCarthy this Congress.

“Censuring Rep. Taylor Greene is about the health of our democracy and faith in government. Her antisemitic, racist, transphobic rhetoric has no place in the House of Representatives. I ran for Congress after watching on January 6th that anti-democratic messages and fearmongering have real consequences for our democracy,” Balint said.

Democrats could force a floor vote on both measures this week. But Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., the chair of the House Democratic Caucus said at a news conference Wednesday that Democrats may not make an issue of the two before the August recess.

“We’ll see where the week takes us,” Aguilar said.

Ryan Tarinelli and Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.

Recent Stories

Spared angry protests at Morehouse, Biden pushes post-war Gaza plan

Capitol Lens | Duck dodgers

Election year politics roil the EV transition

Thompson’s animal welfare, whole milk priorities in farm bill

Schumer plans vote on border security bill that GOP blocked

Republicans look to reverse rule based on gun law they backed