The return to parliamentary activity in Washington has quickly confirmed that the Republican Party is mired in an internal battle that — if not won by those who maintain a shred of sanity — could lead U.S. democracy back into the abyss. The far-right faction of the party has pushed for a preliminary investigation in the House of Representatives into a possible impeachment of President Joe Biden. The initiative has the approval of the House speaker, Republican Kevin McCarthy, who made this concession to Trumpism in exchange for support for a negotiation on an issue that is, indeed, transcendental: signing a debt ceiling bill to prevent a federal shutdown at the end of this month.
The impeachment inquiry is a perversion of an until now solemn legislative procedure, aimed at pleasing a single spectator. From his Florida mansion, Donald Trump is demanding that Biden be given the same treatment that he received when he was in office and was impeached twice by the Democrat-controlled House. In both cases, he was acquitted by Republicans in the Senate. The proceedings against Trump were based on his efforts to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate Biden, then his presidential rival, and for his role in the Capitol insurrection. The current case is ridiculous in comparison: pro-Trump lawmakers want to investigate whether Biden knew about or participated in his son Hunter’s supposedly shady business affairs, but they do not have a single piece of evidence. It is the first time that an impeachment inquiry has been launched prospectively, without evidence, and to probe acts that happened outside the presidency. Fortunately, a handful of Republicans in the House and Senate are against the initiative of the party’s populist minority.
In parallel, that same minority is threatening to oppose approving the government’s debt ceiling bill, which could lead to a shutdown at the end of the month. McCarthy and Biden reached an agreement on the measure last June to prevent an unprecedented default, but the Trumpist hardliners see it as a betrayal and want greater spending cuts. The bill can pass with votes from both parties, but if that happens, McCarthy risks being ousted as House speaker by his own party. Democratic House leader Hakeem Jeffries has described it as a “Republican civil war.”
With the House controlled by the Republicans, the Biden administration has practically no chance of passing new laws. In the 14 months he has left before the 2024 elections, Biden will have to focus on the international agenda, which he is already doing, and hope that between now and the November 5 elections, voters will notice the effects of his initiatives aimed at the middle class, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, the sweeping direct aid provided during the Covid-19 pandemic and the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
In this situation, McCarthy, who has been House speaker since January, appears as a tragic figure. The California Republican came to office thanks to a pact with the devil: he helped rehabilitate Trump after the Capitol uprising in order to retain the former president’s voter base. Yet now, ironically, he finds himself being devoured by Trumpism. The rebellion, however, has nothing to do with him. The goal of anti-politics is to derail the entire system, and anyone who tries to play politics is a nuisance. Playing with the far right comes with a price.
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