Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) nodded at what’s been relatively clear since House Republicans first began making noise about opening an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden: He — and many Republicans — are hoping not to go there.
“Impeachment ought to be rare,” McConnell said in an interview with the New York Times. “This is not good for the country.”
As Democrats control the Senate, McConnell has not publicly weighed in on the subject of impeaching Biden yet. But his far-right colleagues in the House have been pushing it for months and House Republican leadership signaled an openness to it just before the August recess – though House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has tried to downplay the seriousness of such a move by saying he’s only open to an impeachment inquiry at the moment.
In his remarks, McConnell also pointed to his opposition of the first and second impeachment of former President Donald Trump.
“I said two years ago, when we had not one but two impeachments, that once we go down this path it incentivizes the other side to do the same thing,” McConnell said.
In late July, McCarthy proclaimed to Fox News’ Sean Hannity that his caucus’ ongoing bogus probes into President Biden and his family are “rising to the level of impeachment inquiry.” As TPM has reported, the shift in tone occurred just as far-right members of his caucus began slowing down the appropriations process and ultimately risking a shutdown by stuffing right-wing grievances into unrelated appropriations bills.
That shift sparked an avalanche of confusion within the House Republican caucus, as Republicans from swing districts expressed concern about the impact of an impeachment on their reelections.
Less than a day after that, McCarthy walked his comments back, pressing that he didn’t announce an impeachment or even an impeachment inquiry.
“I simply said that the actions that I’m seeing by this administration — withholding the agencies from being able to work with us, that would rise to the level of an impeachment inquiry,” the speaker told reporters.
Later, he dulled that statement further, saying he would only launch an inquiry if the White House does not hand over the information House Republicans are requesting, while clarifying he had raised the prospect of an “impeachment inquiry,” not impeachment.
McCarthy’s word game certainly seemed to create confusion within the deeply divided caucus. Some hardliners like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) parroted the leadership’s language, confirming that McCarthy’s use of the term “inquiry” had been intentional. Others like Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) criticized McCarthy for participating in “impeachment theater.”
But despite the internal tension, many House Republicans privately say that President Biden will face an impeachment inquiry in the fall, according to CNN.
Republicans say if they don’t move forward with an impeachment inquiry soon, it will give the American people the impression that House Republicans have essentially cleared President Biden of the GOP’s unfounded obsession with trying to link him to his son Hunter Biden’s business entanglements, CNN reported.
While teasing the possibility of an impeachment inquiry before the August recess, McCarthy was careful to play to both sides of his caucus.
In a late July closed-door meeting in the Speaker’s office, McCarthy and GOP leadership discussed the difference between an impeachment inquiry and an actual impeachment in depth, according to CNN. In that same meeting, McCarthy reportedly emphasized to his leadership team that an impeachment inquiry is just a way to launch a formal probe and get more information, and isn’t the same thing as impeachment.
That messaging could be the key to ultimately convincing moderates in the GOP caucus who are skeptical of the effort to back an inquiry, while at the same time providing the speaker with a carrot to dangle in front of his far-right flank who are mucking up government funding processes and seeking revenge for Trump’s two impeachments as well as the mounting legal heat he’s gotten from special counsel Jack Smith’s indictments.