- House Republicans voted for a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
- The vote itself will change very little if anything about the status quo.
- It does mean that House Republicans are inching closer to impeaching Biden next year.
House Republicans voted Wednesday evening to move forward with their impeachment investigation into President Joe Biden.
The vote made clear that as lawmakers prepare to leave Washington after a chaotic year, impeachment will be ever present as Republicans begin to vote for their presidential nominee. It also sets up the possibility of a historic vote to impeach Biden just months before the nation goes to the polls to determine the fate of his reelection bid.
But even as they move forward, some Republicans are weary about where they go from here. Multiple lawmakers who voted for an inquiry have questioned where there is actual evidence that Biden committed a high crime or misdemeanor, the constitutional bar for impeachment.
Despite months of investigations, Republicans have yet to produce direct evidence of Biden’s wrongdoing. Top leaders continue to argue that then-Vice President Biden improperly used his office to help his family’s business interests.
“Extreme House Republicans have spent the entire year investigating President Biden, and over and over again, they have failed to turn up any evidence of wrongdoing,” White House spokesperson Ian Sams wrote in a memo earlier this month. “In fact, their own witnesses and documents have time after time debunked their false allegations.”
What is an impeachment inquiry?
Under the Constitution, the House of Representatives has the sole power to formally charge a federal officials with serious wrongdoing that could lead to their removal from office. While lawmakers can and have impeached federal judges and Cabinet officials, their most serious actions are reserved for the President of the United States.
There is some disagreement, but historically many of these impeachment proceedings have begun with a formal investigation of an impeachment inquiry, as Congress’ nonpartisan research arm previously explained.
In short, the vote is a continuation of the beginning of the process. But after formally approving an inquiry, lawmakers may soon find themselves accelerating to the end: an impeachment trial.
Didn’t someone already say this already?
Yes. Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy declared in September that the ongoing investigations by three key House committees, Oversight, Ways and Means, and Judiciary, was now formally an inquiry. Before his declaration, McCarthy had been harshly critical of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement of an impeachment inquiry into then-President Donald Trump in 2019. McCarthy argued that only a formal House vote could officially declare an inquiry.
Nonetheless, McCarthy flip-flopped as it became clear that Republicans didn’t have enough votes for an inquiry to be approved by their razor-thin majority.
So why are lawmakers voting on Wednesday?
The main reason lawmakers want a formal declaration of an inquiry is that some scholars have said that it unlocks special powers for Congress to use during its investigation. Essentially, courts will grant more leeway to Congress and federal departments will be more likely to produce documents if they know that Congress has declared that it may use one of its most serious powers.
As I wrote above, there is disagreement about this claim. House Democrats debated this very same argument when they impeached Donald Trump for withholding Ukraine aid in 2019. Some scholars believe that any House committee already has enough power when debating potential impeachment charges. In that sense, a vote is nothing more than formality.
Republicans, according to The Washington Post, were emboldened to hold a vote after White House special counsel Dick Sauber wrote a letter challenging the legitimacy of the inquiry.
Will Biden be impeached?
This remains to be seen. Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, has argued that voting for an impeachment inquiry is a “slippery slope” to later impeaching Biden.
“It will be a runaway stallion, it will be impossible to stop,” Raskin said this week, per CBS News.
Nothing requires lawmakers to impeach Biden after Wednesday’s vote. But some Republicans fear that if they go this far and don’t impeach the president, it will look like they are exonerating him of any wrongdoing.
Why did some Republicans change their minds?
This will be a closely watched questioned. As you may recall, some Republicans, including even more conservative lawmakers, questioned whether there was enough evidence to vote for an inquiry.
Many but not all of these lawmakers represent congressional districts that Biden won in 2020. They are among the most vulnerable incumbents in the Capitol. Their seats will be fiercely contested next year.
Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, who not only represents a Biden district, but thanks to the state’s quirky rules represents a district that Biden won an Electoral College vote in, told reporters on Tuesday there was “probably not” evidence that Biden had committed high crimes or misdemeanors. He said he still plans on voting to authorize the inquiry.
Bacon told Fox News that he changed his position based on the White House not turning over enough documents, a charge that Biden officials strongly dispute.
What has Trump said?
Former President Donald Trump has repeatedly pushed lawmakers to move ahead. He and his allies view his two impeachments, a record, as the product of a system stacked against him. Now, he wants revenge by subjecting Biden to everything he face.
Trump would rather lawmakers just move straight to charging Biden.
“IMPEACH the BUM, or fade into OBLIVION,” Trump wrote on his social media platform, Truth. “THEY DID IT TO US!”