Republicans have been cuing up a potential impeachment of President Biden if they take back control of Congress in the midterm elections.
One thing conspicuously missing from the conversation, though? A concrete discussion of what the grounds for impeachment would be. And that’s been a trend.
Back in January, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) mused about impeachment on his podcast. He suggested it had become more likely because Democrats had “weaponized” impeachment against Donald Trump. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” he said.
Cruz’s comments turned heads because he seemed to allow that an impeachment might not be properly founded, saying Biden could be impeached “whether it’s justified or not.” He was effectively acknowledging that such an action could boil down to mere political payback.
He also acknowledged that it wasn’t clear what Biden might be impeached for. He cited the border situation as “probably the strongest grounds right now,” but added that “there may be others.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) also spotlighted the border as an impeachment issue in a March interview with the Washington Times, while calling for his party to discuss the possibility. The newspaper noted, though, that Jordan had suggested Republicans might focus impeachment on something else: “Mr. Jordan said the illegal immigration surge is ‘one of the issues’ that makes Mr. Biden a target for impeachment.”
The GOP’s impeachment discussion is often vague and doesn’t point to one specific action or policy, though some have focused on Biden ending Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy or not building the border wall. Rather, it points in a general way to Biden allegedly failing to enforce the nation’s immigration laws and prevent border crossings, as arrests have reached historic highs.
A smattering of other issues has also been mentioned — the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer perhaps most prominent among them. Shortly after the Jan. 6 insurrection, former Trump White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon suggested that Biden be impeached for “his illegitimate activities of stealing the presidency.” (There is zero evidence for this.)
Another is Hunter Biden and his father’s actions in Ukraine as vice president. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) raised this as potential grounds for impeachment even before Joe Biden won the Democratic nomination in 2020, and her comments aligned with Cruz’s, suggesting such a move was quite possible without necessarily endorsing it. The idea revolved around the elder Biden’s pushing for the removal of Ukraine’s top prosecutor. The conspiracy theory contended that Biden intervened to prevent the prosecutor from investigating his son’s business ties; in fact, Viktor Shokin wasn’t investigating those ties. Rather, Shokin was regarded in the West as being corrupt, and his ouster was in line with official U.S. policy.)
“I think this door of impeachable whatever has been opened,” Ernst said at the time.
In one way, Ernst’s phrase — “impeachable whatever” — has proved apt. Last month, the Hill’s Mike Lillis reported that at least eight impeachment resolutions had been introduced against Biden: three on immigration, three on Afghanistan, one on the coronavirus pandemic eviction moratorium, and one on Hunter Biden.
Some will note that Democrats, too, floated a bunch of potential impeachment grounds during the Trump administration. And that’s true. But such proposals were generally more responsive to an actual event, and were more specific. For example, there were calls during the Russia investigation, particularly on the issue of obstruction of justice (for which special counsel Robert S. Mueller III found substantial evidence). There were calls after Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey — a historic instance of a president firing the man whose investigation threatened the president personally. And one lawmaker cited Trump’s reaction to the tragedy in Charlottesville.
One thing you’ll also notice if you comb through those efforts, though, is that they generally came from just a handful of Democratic lawmakers. When one of them forced votes, clear majorities of Democrats repeatedly voted against moving forward. Party leaders tried to tamp down the talk.
Ultimately, they relented and impeached Trump — first when evidence was produced indicating that he rather blatantly tried to use foreign policy toward Ukraine for personal political gain, and then when Trump supporters, acting on his false election conspiracy theories, launched a historic insurrection at the Capitol and Trump dithered in response to it.
Evaluating these impeachment efforts and comparing them to what Republicans are now floating for Biden is an admittedly subjective exercise. But a good metric is how even some Republicans reacted back then. A couple of them talked about possible impeachment of Trump very shortly after Comey’s firing in May 2017. Amid the Ukraine impeachment, many Republicans raised serious concerns about what Trump had done, even as they ultimately voted nearly unanimously against impeachment and then to acquit him. The Jan. 6 insurrection resulted in even more Republicans denouncing Trump’s actions and inaction, with a historic number of them voting to impeach and convict him, and even many who voted against conviction emphasizing that they had done so on a technicality (that Trump was no longer in office).
There is no real analogue for Democrats raising such substantial concerns about Biden’s actions right now. (The nearest Democrats have come may have been in the summer of 2021, when they said they would investigate various aspects of the Afghanistan withdrawal.) Nor are the potential grounds Republicans have raised for impeachment nearly as specific. Which is probably why much of the impeachment talk right now focuses on the “we might” rather than the “here’s why we might.”