Get Ready for the Coming Impeachment of Joe Biden

Get Ready for the Coming Impeachment of Joe Biden

Get Ready for the Coming Impeachment of Joe Biden

The GOP is ready to again beclown American democracy


On Wednesday, Joe Biden delivered his second major speech in two months warning of the dangers right-wing extremism poses to American democracy. As in his earlier speech, Biden effectively cited actual examples of such extremism—in this speech ranging from the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol to the break-in at Nancy Pelosi’s residence that ended with the brutal assault on her husband. Democracy, Biden claimed, is on the ballot in the midterms. Laying down the stakes of the issue, he said, “What we’re doing now is going to determine whether democracy will long endure and, in my view, is the biggest of questions: whether the American system that prizes the individual bends toward justice and depends on the rule of law, whether that system will prevail.”

Biden’s claims are serious, but the speech suffers from the same tendency toward abstraction and vagueness that bedevils Democratic Party discourse about democracy. Biden made concrete points about voter intimidation, political violence, and the dangers of election deniers occupying high office. All this is important. But his speech lacked any sense of how the authoritarian turn of the GOP is a danger—not just at election time but to the very normal functioning of government which affects everyone at all times.

A more far-reaching message would insist that if the GOP can govern as a minority party disregarding majority opinion, it will be able to carry out an extremist agenda that will hurt ordinary Americans and make the United States ungovernable. An authoritarian GOP will be able to enact policies like slashing Social Security and Medicare—ideas that many Republican leaders have long advocated but shied away from for fear of popular anger. It will be able to hamstring not just elections but the ordinary operation of government, for example by using the debt ceiling as leverage to force radical budget cuts.

A robust closing message for the Democrats in the last days before the midterms would emphasize the real, tangible harm Republicans could do if they win the House of Representatives and the Senate. It would draw on the party’s record of recent years to point out how, once in power, a GOP Congress will use all its investigatory powers to bog down the White House, tying down the Executive Branch.

In a recent article in The Atlantic, the journalist Barton Gellman makes a compelling argument that if the GOP controls the House of Representatives, it will impeach Joe Biden. This might seem like a far-fetched claim, especially since GOP congressional leader Kevin McCarthy has shied away from issuing impeachment threats. But, as Gellman notes, Republican public opinion is running ahead of what the party leaders are willing to say.

“Already, there is enormous demand for impeachment,” Gellman notes. “A University of Massachusetts Amherst poll in May found that 68 percent of Republican voters think the House should impeach Biden. A majority expect that it will impeach him. Thwarting those expectations would be dangerous for any House Republican.”

Some might wonder what on Earth Biden could be impeached for. The correct answer is that a majority in the House can impeach a president, and other officials in the Executive Branch, for anything. The phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” is expansive enough to include whatever the House wants—although it will be unlikely to get the two-thirds majority in the Senate needed for removal. That means Biden could be impeached for any made-up scandal that Fox News decides to make noise about concerning his son Hunter Biden’s laptop. Nor would Biden be the only Democratic official who is vulnerable. Republicans are already talking about impeaching other officials like Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.

A Biden impeachment would be an act of pure spite and revenge. Texas Senator Ted Cruz made this clear on a podcast in December when he suggested that a Biden impeachment—“whether it’s justified or not”—was a logical response to the two impeachments of Donald Trump. Cruz told listeners, “The Democrats weaponized impeachment. They used it for partisan purposes to go after Trump because they disagreed with him. And one of the real disadvantages of doing that…is the more you weaponize it and turn it into a partisan cudgel, you know, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

Trump himself will be a factor because he’ll be delighted at the idea that congressional Republicans will be his agents of retribution. He’ll egg on the impeachment, creating a political groundswell on the right that will force wavering Republicans to follow the party line.

The model here will be the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton, which showed how easy it was to get the GOP to impeach a president over a trivial matter. House Speaker Newt Gingrich is sometimes remembered, wrongly, as the extremist who pushed for that impeachment. The real story is more complex, as historian Nicole Hemmer shows in her recent book Partisans. Gingrich was a sorcerer’s apprentice who rode to power in 1994 by stirring up the goblins of the far right. But once he became speaker of the House, Gingrich found he was a prisoner of the very forces he unleashed: The right kept pushing him further than he wanted to go on everything from the government shutdown to impeachment.

Kevin McCarthy is the new Newt Gingrich: He might be triumphant next week with a new Congress ready to crown him as speaker. But McCarthy has demonstrated no ability to tame far-right members like Marjorie Taylor Greene or Paul Gosar. They will be the ones who, in alliance with Trump, have the ability to stir up the base. They will be in the driver’s seat—and one of the first destinations they will want to visit is the Impeachment Cliff

This impeachment would be a squalid circus. It would also make governing very difficult, especially if (as is likely) there are multiple targets, including cabinet officials.

Politically, of course, a clown impeachment would be unpopular and might even help Biden win reelection. But Democrats don’t need to wait until it happens to reap the political benefit. They should be making the argument right now that a GOP Congress will be a freak show that delights the partisan right but does nothing to help ordinary people. Even more: that governance by a radicalized GOP is likely to unleash any number of real economic threats, ranging from a crash induced by a debt ceiling crisis to cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

The winning argument for democracy can’t be made in the abstract. It has to connect to real harm that people can imagine hurting them in their daily lives. That’s a closing message that would resonate.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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