As Congress returns, House Republicans prepare to increase pressure on Biden

GOP hardliners are calling for the U.S. president to be impeached and are threatening a government shutdown if their demands are not met

Joe Biden with the president of Vietnam, Vo Van Thuong, in Hanoi, on Monday.
Joe Biden with the president of Vietnam, Vo Van Thuong, in Hanoi, on Monday.EVELYN HOCKSTEIN (REUTERS)

The Capitol is coming back to life after the summer recess. It’s still stiflingly hot in Washington, and Republicans want to keep the political temperature at boiling point, too. Congress returns Tuesday, and in the House of Representatives, the Republican majority is already sharpening its knives. With just over a year to go until the 2024 presidential elections, the party’s hard-right faction plans to toughen its opposition to Joe Biden, and is threatening to resort to the most extreme measures at its disposal: an impeachment inquiry into the president and a government shutdown.

Far-right Republicans were disappointed by the agreement that allowed the debt ceiling authorized by Congress to be suspended for two years. It was a triumph for Biden and turned the party’s hard-right faction against Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who only scored minor concessions when signing the deal.

The agreement implied that Congress would approve the spending plan for the new fiscal year, which starts on October 1. But it is now time to approve the spending, and Republican hardliners have said they will not sign off on the plan. If this happens, it would trigger a government shutdown, a drastic measure that is very unpopular with the public, as it disrupts public services and leaves employees who perform government services without pay. While McCarthy does not want to appear responsible for causing such chaos, other Republicans believe a scorched earth policy is needed to reduce public spending.

“We cannot afford the brinkmanship or hostage-taking we saw from House Republicans earlier this year when they pushed our country to the brink of default to appease the most extreme members of their party,” Chuck Schumer, the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, wrote in a letter to the Senate earlier this month. The Senate has approved the spending items with support from both parties, but the House is turning the pressure on.

Biden impeachment

The other bomb in the Republican arsenal is an impeachment inquiry. The House of Representatives can impeach with a simple majority, but for a president to be convicted, two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favor. It’s an exceptional proceeding. Only three presidents throughout U.S. history have been the subject of an impeachment trial: Andrew Johnson, in 1868; Bill Clinton, in 1998, and Donald Trump, in 2019 and 2021. None were convicted. Richard Nixon resigned while his impeachment proceedings were still underway.

Although an impeachment is meant for serious misconduct, Republicans have been looking for any excuse to impeach Biden since they won a majority in the House in the November midterm elections. That’s despite the fact that the case has no chance of prospering in the Senate, which is controlled by the Democrats. The move is in part motivated by revenge for the impeachment trials against Trump — “They did it to us,” the former president has said on social media — and in part a way to counteract the many legal cases facing Trump. Republicans have been building two possible cases against Biden. The first is to charge him for allowing the “invasion” of immigrants on the border with Mexico. The second is over Biden’s possible involvement in his son’s business dealings abroad while he was vice president.

In the immigration case, the Republicans have already taken the first step, but one that led to a fierce clash between members of the Freedom Caucus, the party’s hard-right faction. Marjorie Taylor Greene (MTG), Trump’s most loyal representative in Congress, was removed from the Freedom Caucus for calling fellow member Lauren Boebert a “little bitch” on the House floor. The comment was made after Boebert used a procedural shortcut, known as a privileged resolution, to introduce articles of impeachment against Biden for his alleged “unconstitutional dereliction of duty at the southern border.”

MTG had been planning her own impeachment articles for the same reason, and was not at all pleased when Boebert stole the spotlight and beat her to it thanks to the shortcut. “She has genuinely been a nasty little bitch to me,” Greene said. Meanwhile, MTG has presented a proposal to expunge Trump’s 2019 and 2021 impeachments, which she described as a “sham” and the product of a “witch hunt.”

The other issue the Republicans are pursuing concerns Biden’s son, Hunter. Federal prosecutors plan to ask a grand jury to indict Hunter Biden by the end of the month. The charges appear related to a gun possession charge in which he was accused of having a firearm while being a drug user. The president’s son had reached an agreement with prosecutors, but it fell apart at the last moment. Hunter Biden did business abroad, in Ukraine and China, when his father was Barack Obama’s vice president.

Republicans have tried, so far without success, to find evidence of the president’s involvement in these somewhat shady business dealings. For now, the most they have shown is that Biden once greeted his son’s business partners and potential clients and allegedly attended a dinner, although business was not discussed. There is also no precedent for impeaching a president for acts that took place before assuming office. The fact that there is no evidence or precedent for such a move means little for many Republicans.

The two fronts are intertwined. Spurred on by Trump, Taylor Greene has made launching an impeachment the first condition to supporting the government spending plan. But she also wants to end funding for the war in Ukraine, to eliminate all mandates and vaccines against Covid and to defund the special prosecutor and FBI agents investigating Trump, as she said at a recent event with voters. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has even warned McCarthy that his job is on the line. “We’ve got to seize the initiative. That means forcing votes on impeachment. And if Speaker McCarthy stands in our way, he might not have the job long,” he said on social media.

McCarthy seems willing to open an impeachment inquiry into Biden in exchange for obtaining votes to avoid a government shutdown. In an interview with Fox News at the end of August, he said that this investigation would be “a natural step forward.” Without leveling specific charges against the president, he alleged that there appears to be “a culture of corruption that’s been happening within the entire Biden family.” McCarthy argues that if the spending plan is not approved, the inquiry would have to be suspended.

McCarthy is currently trying to temporarily extend funding while an agreement on spending levels is negotiated with the Democrats. But maintaining unity will be no easy feat. The Freedom Caucus has drafted its own list of demands, even for a stopgap funding bill. They say they will oppose any spending measure that does not address the border, the “weaponization” of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI, and “woke” policies in the military, in reference to policies on equality and diversity.

Texas Rep. Chip Roy has emerged as one of the leaders of the hard-right faction: “Republicans should not fund the things they campaign against, and then just shrug afterwards: Border chaos, DOJ weaponization, DOD [Department of Defense] wokeness, IRS abuse, Covid tyranny,” he posted in a message on X, formerly known as Twitter.

A steamy fall awaits Biden. His priority is to unblock the funding bill, but at the same time, he is preparing — both legally and politically — to combat a possible impeachment trial. His re-election is at stake.

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