On Tuesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy opened a formal inquiry into impeaching President Joe Biden by directing GOP-controlled House committees to begin investigating him. All the evidence available now suggests that the case against Biden is exceptionally weak, and even House Republicans seem divided on whether it is worth pursuing. That is perhaps one reason McCarthy opted to begin an investigation without a vote of the full House of Representatives, reneging on a previous promise.
Most of the supposed case for impeachment rests on the idea that Joe Biden was improperly influenced by the business dealings his son, Hunter Biden, had with Ukrainian and Chinese companies. The president’s son also faces criminal charges that are both more substantial and unrelated to the grounds for impeaching Joe Biden. The charges don’t provide any strong evidence for impeachment claims, though they do understandably raise suspicions about the Biden family’s business and financial practices in general.
Hunter Biden certainly traded on his family name to land positions for which he had otherwise dubious qualifications, but that phenomenon is endemic to the entire ruling class, in politics and beyond. And the kind of influence-peddling the GOP is alluding to certainly happens among elite families with ties to overlapping and perhaps competing financial interests, but so far, Republicans have provided little hard evidence to suggest that the elder Biden was influenced by his son to a criminal or impeachable degree. Then there’s the fact that even with a rock-solid case, the Democrats’ thin majority in the Senate makes a conviction all but impossible.
But the low chance of a conviction isn’t really the point. Rather, the Republicans’ have two real goals. The first is to make Biden’s reelection efforts more difficult by distracting him and putting his son Hunter’s sleazy and potentially illegal behavior at the front of voters’ minds. Pro-impeachment Republicans’ sentiment is perhaps best summed up by Georgia representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who told Donald Trump that she wanted to make the impeachment process “long and excruciatingly painful for Joe Biden,’” according to the New York Times.
The Republicans’ second, arguably more important goal is to muddy the waters around Trump’s various prosecutions — both in order to create a political environment that makes his conviction more difficult and to advance his chances of defeating Biden in the 2024 election. Trump himself, of course, has been pushing hard for the legislative tu quoque, both publicly and behind the scenes with congressional allies.
In 2016, Trump defeated a moderate Democrat who had decades of experience in Washington in part because his “Drain the Swamp” rhetoric articulated something many voters intuitively believe but often can’t quite prove: politicians are just in it for themselves and their families, and they don’t have to play by the rules that everyone else does. Republicans, and Trump in particular, are no less guilty of this than anyone else. And his image as a Washington outsider will certainly be harder to maintain now that he has himself served as president. So whether Trump’s “everyone else is crooked” line will continue to work remains to be seen.
But one thing is clear: a political moment in which inflation is eating away at wages and Democrats’ response is to roll back social spending and reimpose a draconian and endless regime of student debt on forty-five million people means that these kinds of attacks from the Right carry more weight than they should. The liberal establishment’s strategy of simply telling voters they’re wrong about the economy does little to help.
Biden’s failure to provide voters with an exciting positive vision is going to make it harder for him to change the subject away from Hunter and impeachment. That means, going forward, it’s going to be up to Trump and congressional Republicans how much we hear about it. If Biden wants to change that, he needs to give the country something more substantial to talk about.
There is plenty that Democrats could do here. For starters, the Biden administration could immediately cancel all federal student debt right now; at the very least, it could extend the student loan repayment pause that is set to expire October 1. Biden could also make use of various other executive orders to materially improve people’s lives, as congressional progressives have urged. Instead of simply insisting that voters should thank him for their economic good fortune, Biden and Democrats could campaign on bringing back the temporarily generous COVID welfare policies that they let expire.
Don’t hold your breath.